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Westwood closes in on Montgomerie

Lee Westwood took another giant step closer to knocking Colin Montgomerie from his pedestal as European number one thanks to his dramatic victory at the Smurfit European Open.

The 26-year-old Worksop golfer completed his second European Tour victory of the season in the space of just eight days with a sensational win on a day of high tension at the K Club.

Westwood, winner of the Dutch Open last Sunday, began the final day seven shots adrift of stablemate Darren Clarke who looked to be strolling to victory on home soil.

But as Clarke's brilliant run of form finally came to an end, Westwood seized his chance with both hands to fire a superb closing 65 for a 17-under total of 271 and a three-shot win over Clarke and Australian Peter O'Malley.

Just two weeks ago Westwood trailed Montgomerie by a huge margin in the European Order of Merit, but after pocketing the winner's cheque for £226,000 he moved second in the money list, within striking distance of top spot.

"The Order of Merit was a realistic proposition no matter what happened this week with the USPGA and the NEC Invitational coming up and a one million dollars first prize in Akron, and I'm starting to feel like I can win those kinds of events," Westwood said.

"But there is no doubt I've given myself a great chance with the European Open result and the Order of Merit is far from over."

Westwood admitted to thinking the tournament itself may well have been over after he began the final day seven shots behind an inspired Clarke, who had equalled the lowest-ever European Tour score with a second-round 60 and then had a hole-in-one in a third-round 66.

"I thought Darren was playing well enough to run away with it, I thought the fat lady was starting to tune her voice," Westwood admitted.

"But anything is possible. I came from five shots behind last week and people can shoot 60 round here or 75.

"We are good friends but there's not a lot I can say to Darren, he'll feel he should have won, but once someone comes at you it's difficult to focus on what you're doing.

"People think you're not under any pressure when you're six in front, but you look back to when Nick Faldo was six behind Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters and you see it can be done - and the pressure is double in front of your own fans."

At one stage it looked as though Westwood would win comfortably with eight birdies in 15 holes to lead O'Malley by two shots with three holes to play as Clarke stumbled to a closing 75.

Yet there was still more drama to unfold as Westwood found the water on the 16th to run up a double-bogey six and allow O'Malley to draw level.

Just minutes later, however, the exact same fate befell the Australian when his approach to the same green came up inches short and was adjudged to be still in the water-hazard.

The resulting six gave Westwood a two-shot cushion again which he increased with a birdie on the last - leaving O'Malley and Clarke to settle for joint second.

"I didn't play as well as I wanted, but Lee is a worthy champion," said Clarke.

"You have to make the score and he did, I didn't. He thoroughly deserves to win but I can't help feeling I lost it.

"It's going to take me a long time to get over it. It's one of my most disappointing days ever. I had a 60, a hole-in-one and still I don't win the championship.

"This would have meant an awful lot to me. It's been a long time since we've had an Irish winner at home and hopefully I'll be able to do better next year."

Fourth place was shared by Italian Costantino Rocca and Sweden's Robert Karlsson, the latter moving from 20th to 10th in the Ryder Cup standings, the last automatic qualifying place, knocking Germany's Bernhard Langer out of the top 10.

Scotland's Andrew Coltart moved up to ninth place courtesy of finishing joint 10th while Open runner-up Jean van de Velde consolidated his eighth place.