Clarke Wins Volvo Masters


Darren Clarke claimed the biggest win of his career to win the Volvo Masters on Sunday, but it was Colin Montgomerie who claimed the Volvo Ranking.

The victory for the 30-year-old Irishman, his second of the season and fourth of his career, came thanks to a final round of 63 which equalled the Montecastillo course record of Per-Ulrik Johansson and put him to 17 under and two ahead of Andrew Coltart.

But Clarke needed to win and see Montgomerie, the now six-time winner of the money list, finish outside the top-eight to win the ranking for the first time. Although Lee Westwood, the third contender, fell away with a disappointing 75, Montgomerie's steady 68 was good enough for third place and a unique sixth successive Harry Vardon Trophy.

Monty won £63,000 for third place plus the top bonus of £170,000 to set a new tour record of £993,077 for the season.

"I'm very pleased for Darren," Montgomerie said. "He put pressure on me by winning the tournament when he had to, and started to play away from the pins and just do what I needed to do. It is unfortunate that the tournament is overshadowed by the order of merit, but the standard in Europe is improving all the time and I have had to improve along with it."

"It has been tough to stay ahead of two such tough competitors as Darren and Lee. The key to my form over the last two months has been my putting. I went to see Dave Pelz in America and changed my putter, my grip and my style."

Prior to this season Clarke had only won twice since turning professional in 1990 despite a huge talent, but he followed a win in the Benson and Hedges International with the biggest victory of his career. His winner's cheque for £166,000 took him past Westwood into second place on the order of merit for which he earned a bonus of £120,000.

Clarke made a blistering start to his round by birdieing four of the first five holes, without having to make any big putts, but it was the ten-footer at the ninth for eagle that put him out in 30 and opened up a three-stroke lead. Further birdies followed at the 11th and 16th before he holed from eight feet at the last.

"I feel brilliant," Clarke said. "I have had a lot of chances to win and finished second three times this year, but I played really well today. My goal at the start of the week was to go out and win and then I couldn't affect anyone else. To go out and win under that pressure in the stye that I did was very gratifying."

Clarke was inspired by the death of a close friend to him and all the players in the Andrew Chandler management stable in Stephen Bowler. "His wife and son said that one of us should win this week and this victory is for him."

The day began with the duel set up seemingly between Westwood and Montgomerie, who trailed 25-year-old and Australian Peter O'Malley by one with a round to play. Westwood's misfortunes began at the second, where his tee shot at the par-3 just caught the lip of the bunker in front of the green.

From there it was his putter than let him down, just as against Tiger Woods in the semifinal of the World Match Play. Having come out of the bunker to four feet, Westwood missed the par-saver, his first dropped shot for 41 holes, and went on to let birdie chances slip at the next two holes.

Montgomerie had promised to make sure his main rival was forced to watch him make the birdies following two days of the reverse situation and after the Scot claimed his first at the fifth, Westwood followed him in.

But after Monty had added another at the ninth, Westwood could only par the hole by three-putting from the front edge, missing from four feet again. By now Westwood was trailing Clarke by four and Montgomerie by one.

If his chance hadn't already gone, it certainly had by the time he took four blows on the 14th tee to get a ball in play. His first went left at the par-3 and thinking it was out of bounds, he hit a provisional to ten feet. But the ball was found, albeit in a position where it was unplayable and undroppable, so he had to go back to the tee. His third was also unplayable and when he found the green with his next he two-putted for a seven.

"I struggled all day," Westwood said. "It was the start of the round that let me down and I never really felt I had a chance. They were certainly gone by the 14th."

Coltart, who is due to become Westwood's brother-in-law next year when his sister Laurae marries the Ryder Cup player, was playing alongside his World Cup partner Montgomerie, who was no doubt urging him on as Coltart birdied five holes out of eight from the ninth.

The importance of a high finish for the 28-year-old Scot was to ensure his position in the top-15 on the money list, and so gain entry to more American majors next year, and also to consolidate his place on the world ranking. But having birdied the 16th to draw alongside Clarke at 16 under, Coltart three-putted the 17th while Clarke birdied the last.

"I'm happy but also disappointed in a way," said Coltart. "Darren played a fantastic round and it was always going to be difficult to beat him."