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The Volvo Masters, which features the European tour’s longest-lasting current sponsor, is one of only a handful of events around the world that have a significance beyond its existence or the size of its prize pot.
Starting on Thursday at Valderrama in southern Spain, will be the 20th consecutive staging of this important event which, in addition to showcasing the finest 60 players on the European Tour, also decides which of them can call himself Europe’s number one for 2007.
It is a title keenly sought: indeed that highly respected veteran tour player Des Smyth once said that he regarded Colin Montgomerie’s eight Order of Merit titles as being the finest achievement by a British golfer in his experience, and that included Nick Faldo’s six majors. That may be a controversial opinion but there is no doubt that many players regard topping the Order of Merit in the same light as footballers do winning the Premier League title, as opposed to the FA Cup, as represented by the four major championships.
Indeed, at the recent world match play championship Padraig Harrington, asked about the Volvo, said he would love to emulate Montgomerie’s effort although, after a moments reflection and realising that it was probably impossible added, with impeccable Irish logic: “Well, you can’t do it unless you first win one, and then two...”
He won his first last year in an incredibly dramatic denouement. Paul Casey had seemed set to win before the event but fell ill and took 76 in the first round. He recovered well, though, and eventually, in order to make him European number one all Sergio Garcia had to do on the final hole was par it. He bunkered his second but, as one of the finest sand players of all time, all he needed was to get down in two more. He took three, finished joint second with Harrington to Jeev Milkha Singh, and the difference in the money he won by being jointly second rather than second on his own, and the consequent increase in the Irishman’s share, meant that Harrington crept past Casey for the Order of Merit title.
Singh’s win was also of huge significance. It was the biggest tournament ever won by an Indian and the effects have been immediate.
Next year, for the first time, there are two European tour events in India, the Indian Masters and the prestigious Johnnie Walker Classic, as golf begins to establish itself on the sub-continent.
There have been other dramatic finishes, like the one in 1992 won by Sandy Lyle. It went to a play-off which started at the 10th where Lyle’s opponent, Montgomerie, hit a low hook off the tee which nearly took out a bunch of watching pressmen. Given Monty’s problems with the fourth estate he is probably still regretting a hole that cost him the tournament plus a chance to eliminate several critics of his career so far.
Montgomerie was also involved in the favourite finish of Mel Pyatt, the Volvo executive mostly responsible for the tournament’s success. The Scot was in a play-off with Bernhard Langer, time was running out and, as Pyatt says: “Two of the world’s greatest players locked in battle, in fading light, agreeing to share the title – we couldn’t have written a better script.”
Volvo has agreed to sponsor the Masters for at least three more years because, says Pyatt: “Quality and integrity are bywords for both golf and Volvo and both have been built up over many years, so that if you want to create an event that matches those values, you have to be prepared to take your time to earn them. We are now obtaining tremendous commercial benefits from our investment.”