Truce for top trio in merit battle

WITH front-runners Robert Karlsson, Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood missing this week’s €2m Castillo Open in Valencia, Spain, the destination of the 2008 European Tour order of merit title won’t be decided until next week’s season-ending Volvo Masters at Valderrama.

Karlsson is odds on to become the first Swedish winner of the coveted Harry Vardon Trophy as he carries a lead of 397,425 over Harrington into that event.

Westwood, Miguel-Angel Jimenez and Henrik Stenson could still, in theory, overtake the 6 ft 5 inch Swede but it’s difficult to see it happening.

Harrington, expected to announce the renewal of his club contract with Wilson in Dublin tomorrow, presumably with a massive hike in financial terms — would need to win the €4.25m Volvo Masters and Karlsson would have to finish well down the elite 60-strong field (there is no cut) to claim the title for a second time in three years.

The Challenge and Seniors Tours money list leaders are also due to be decided this month. The Challenge Tour ends on Sunday with the Grand Final at Puglia, Italy, where the battle for top honours could hardly be closer. England’s David Horsey leads with €133,848 - €840 over nearest rival Tako Remkes from the Netherlands. The leading Irish contender is Gareth Maybin from Ballyclare near Belfast. He is 4th with €114,382 and the only other Irishman in the top 30 who win cards to the main tour is Michael Hoey, (28th) with €49,674.

Whereas Maybin is assured of becoming the ninth Irish golfer on the European Tour next year, Hoey needs to at least make the cut in Italy to remain within the top 30.

Maybin and Hoey are Challenge Tour winners this year as is Donegalman, Michael McGeady, 40th in the order of merit with €41,020 and still in contention to make the top 30 with a good performance in the Grand Final. Athlone’s Colm Moriarty is 55th with €31,527.

There is also just one event left on the Seniors circuit, the Tour Championship scheduled for Castellon in Spain (November 7-9). It carries a prize fund of €400,000, chicken feed compared with what’s on offer on the main tour and an indication that the over 50s on this side of the world have yet to make an impression on sponsors and the public.

Be that as it may, the order of merit leaders are two of Europe’s most distinguished ever players as well as successful Ryder Cup captains. Ian Woosnam is out in front with €318,058 followed by Bernhard Langer on €288,270 and it would take a remarkable turn of events to deprive the Welshman of the honour.

Another Ryder Cup hero of former days, Eamonn Darcy, is best of the Irish in 14th spot with €101,895 followed by Denis O’Sullivan, 26th with €71,956; Jimmy Heggarty, 61st with €23,020 and Eddie Polland, 70th with €15,403.

Meanwhile, there are two remaining tournaments to be contested on the regular tour, this week’s new Castillo Masters in Valencia, Spain, worth €2m, and, of course, the last Volvo Masters starting at Valderrama on Thursday, October 29.

Karlsson, Harrington Lee Westwood, the three best-placed players in the order of merit, have all resisted the temptation to improve their ranking prior to Valderrama. But the new event has nevertheless attracted a really worthwhile entry, due largely to the influence of Sergio Garcia and his father Victor who are hosting the tournament at their home course, Club de Campo del Mediterraneo.

The engaging and colourful Colombian Camilo Villegas, a winner on the US Tour this year, makes his first appearance in Europe outside of the Open Championship. Garcia has also enticed another exciting member of the younger brigade, Anders Romero from Argentina to tee up along with the likes of Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Angel Cabrera, Jose-Maria Olazabal and Paul Casey.

The event provides Gary Murphy with his last opportunity of joining the record seven Irishmen who have already qualified for Valderrama.

The Kilkenny man currently stands 98th in the money list and would need a top five finish to make it to the €4.5m event a week later.

The other Irishmen in the field are Paul McGinley and Rory McIroy. They have been much energised by the recent announcement by the R & A that the top 30 — an increase of ten — on the 2008 European Tour at the end of the season will automatically qualify for next year’s Open Championship at Turnberry.

McGinley is currently 22nd and should be safe enough, a remark that certainly applies to Graeme McDowell, 7th, €1,758, 846, and Darren Clarke, 11th, €1,074,688 and hopefully Damien McGrane, currently 27th on €727,089. Peter Lawrie, 33rd, €652,681, needs a decent outcome at Valderrama to crash the top 30.

Having made sure of his place in the Volvo Masters, McIlroy is also targeting the same result after the Volvo. Following another useful performance in Portugal at the weekend, he has moved up to 37th in the money list. An indication of what the brilliant young Ulsterman needs to achieve in the next two weeks is that he is currently 46,163 points behind Ernie Els, the current occupant of 30th place.


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