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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2005, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
Volvo Masters preview
THE LOWDOWN - VALDERRAMA, 27-30 OCTOBER

Ian Poulter

Valderrama in Sotogrande, southern Spain, ranks as one of the finest courses in the world, never mind the European Tour.

It has made a fitting stage for the season's climax since 1988 when the flagship Volvo Masters was first contested.

Advances in club and ball technology mean it is no longer quite the monster it was back in the late 1980s but the par-72, 7,005-yard layout still offers one of the sternest tests on the circuit.

From the first to the 18th, barely a hole on the 1997 Ryder Cup venue offers a straightforward birdie opportunity with heavy woodland, wickedly switchbacking fairways, water and tricky greens ensuring the entire elite field have to plot their way round.

Last year's event, won by England's Ian Poulter in a play-off, featured only eight players under par.

WHERE IT WILL BE WON AND LOST

HARDEST HOLE: The dog-leg right, par-four 16th put paid to many a challenge in 2004, clawing back no less than 49 bogeys and nine doubles against par.

Trees guard the corner and only the perfectly faded, soaring drive will clear their branches to offer reward in the shape of a mid-iron to the green. The fairway, though, slopes right to left and there is precious little landing area for the overhit tee-shot which can land in thickish rough left.

For most, the smart play is a couple of long irons - two or three irons - to the corner and then more of the same to the centre of the green. Reuters Stats showed just 17 birdies collected there all week with a wretched overall stroke average for a top-class field of 4.24.

EASIEST HOLE: The second of the par fives, the 540-yard 11th gives at least some respite to the poor old pro battered by the first 10 holes.

According to the 2004 Reuters Stats, it is the biggest birdie opportunity on the course, last year surrendering 94, only 98 pars and 20 bogeys or worse.

There is little serious trouble from tee to green and two clean three-woods leave you with either a short chip on or a couple of putts for a birdie four. Last year it averaged 4.65 shots a visit.

THE MEN TO WATCH

The Volvo Masters is the climax to the season but only the very cream of the Tour, the top 60, are invited to the four million-euro party in which there is no cut so all share in the spoils.

Money alone, though, can no longer guarantee the presence of the very top dogs of world golf and Ernie Els is again conspicuous by his absence, this time through injury.

Retief Goosen, another former South African Order of Merit winner, is also out through injury leaving the stage set for Colin Montgomerie and New Zealand's US Open champion Michael Campbell to decide who becomes this year's top money earner.

Campbell trails by 153,487 euros and needs a top-five finish at least coupled with a poor finish from Montgomerie to pip him at the post.

Otherwise, the big Scot will collect his eighth Order of Merit, six years after his last.

Information: Reuters Stats




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Colin Montgomerie


Interview: New Zealand's Michael Campbell



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