By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Darren Clarke may be leading the European Tour Order of Merit going into the final tournament of the season, but the Irishman’s situation could have been better following last weekend’s Volvo Masters at Montecastillo, Spain. One wild tee shot at the 17th hole cost Clarke the title as well as a massive £111,000 in the race to become Europe’s best player.
That uncharacteristic pulled drive opened the door for Sweden’s Pierre Fulke to win the presitigous tournament – Clarke finished a stroke in arrears – but the reduction in Clarke’s paycheck meant that his advantage over Lee Westwood at the top of Europe’s money list is just £63,000.
With a first prize of £650,000 on offer at this week’s WGC championship event in Valderrama, Spain, and all of Europe’s top players as well as Tiger Woods competing, Clarke, who has moved up to No. 9 in the world rankings, still has some work to do to realize his dream of taking over the No. 1 spot from Colin Montgomerie.
"That was a bad swing at the 17th," said Clarke, "and it was my only mistake of the day. I’m not that disappointed that I didn’t win because overall I played well. I want to win the Order of Merit to join the illustrious list of names who have taken the title in the past."
Mathematically, Clarke could still be overtaken by any one of four players – Ernie Els, Thomas Bjorn, Michael Campbell and Westwood. However, the race to succeed Montgomerie will most likely be a head-to-head between Clarke and Westwood.
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The Irishman shot four rounds in the 60s at Montecastillo for a 15-under-par total of 273, but was still second best to Fulke who has missed most of this season with a wrist injury.