Order of Merit's top spot up for grabs

The number one spot on the European Order of Merit is up for grabs at the French Open this week with top four Miguel Angel Jimenez, Robert Karlsson, Lee Westwood and Oliver Wilson all competing for a first prize of more than €630,000.

If the event, now one of the richest on Tour after the majors and world championships, follows the pattern of recent years, someone’s life will be changing on Sunday.

Shock victories have become the norm at Le Golf National since Malcolm Mackenzie set the trend six years ago.

The English golfer had not won any of his previous 508 European Tour events stretching back to 1981 when he beat Trevor Immelman – Masters champion now, of course – with a last-hole birdie.

“I felt a mixture of relief, elation and emotion – 20 years worth all in one go,” he said. “It’s not an easy game to play when you’ve got three kids and you’re trying to pay your mortgage.

“We’ve been planning an extension on the house for five years and haven’t been able to afford it.”

He could, though, with a cheque of more than €259,000, almost seven times bigger than his previous best.

A year later Londoner Phil Golding, playing his 201st event and 411th in the world, grabbed his first victory – after no fewer than 16 trips to the Tour qualifying school.

“I can’t believe this. It’s a dream come true,” he said. “Apart from the birth of my child this is the greatest moment in my life.

“When I just failed to keep my card last season I didn’t want to go back to the school, but my wife persuaded me to.”

In 2004 Jean-Francois Remesy was world-ranked 161st when he became the first home winner since 1969 – and 165th when he made a successful defence by beating compatriot Jean Van de Velde in a dramatic play-off.

Two years ago John Bickerton, who until going to Tenerife the previous October had not won in 287 events, stood 189th in the world when he pushed Padraig Harrington into second place.

And last year fellow Englishman Graeme Storm, not in the top 200, played the round of his life – a five under par 66 – for his first Tour title just a few years after he was cleaning trays outside a cake factory to make ends meet.

It will be some feat to deny one of the big guns victory this weekend, however.

Westwood’s last start was his third place finish in the US Open at Torrey Pines, where he led with nine to play and had a putt on the last to join Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate in the play-off.

Karlsson was fourth there and Jimenez sixth, although the Spaniard has since missed the cut in the BMW International in Madrid.

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