Clarke's Merit race stalled

 

Darren Clarke almost certainly forfeited his chance of winning the Volvo Ranking for the first time when Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie took the top two places in the Linde German Masters yesterday, while he could manage only a share of seventh.

Langer's runaway six stroke victory after a final round of 70 for a 21-under-par total of 267, earned him £125,000, while Montgomerie snatched the runners-up award of £83,320 with three birdies in the last six holes to edge past Thomas Bjorn.

Two more members of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team, Costantino Rocca and Jose Maria Olazabal were joint fourth with Swede Patrik Sjoland. It means that Montgomerie will go into hisfinal event of the season, the Volvo Masters at Montecastillo, Jerez with a lead of £45,249 over Langer at the head of the Volvo Ranking. Clarke has now dropped to third place, and trails the Scot by £146,238.

So, even if the Ulsterman were to win the penultimate counting event, the Oki Pro-Am in Madrid in three weeks time, he would still face a near-impossible task to overhaul both in the Volvo Masters.

Clarke recognised as much after bravely getting birdies at the last two holes yesterday for a closing 70 and an eleven-under-par total of 277. It won him £18,247 but still leaves him trailing Langer by over £100,000.

"I have entered for the Oki ProAm," said Clarke who this week makes his debut in the World Matchplay Championship, then represents Ireland in the Dunhill Cup at St Andrews. "But I will probably not play now because it will be very hard to get past both of them. I wanted a better last day here to have a chance of doing that."

As Clarke's schedule is taking him to Hawaii immediately after the Volvo Masters, then to Japan for three weeks, a week's rest before Jerez is beginning to look a more appetising prospect. Clarke confessed he was mentally exhausted and made too many bad decisions to produce his best golf.

"Every time I made a birdie I gave it back to the course a couple of holes later," he added. But putts of 15 and 12 feet fell on the last two greens to lift him into the top ten.

By then Langer had long since secured his fourth win of the season and his 10th on home soil, after following his sensational third round 60 with three birdies in the first five holes of his final round. Langer had joined Clarke, who achieved the feat in Monte Carlo in 1992, as one of the eight players who have shot 60 in Europe, by having an eagle and eleven birdies to surge into a seven stroke lead after 54 holes.

No one got close to stopping the German who has now scored three of his 38 European victories in the week immediately after a Ryder Cup match. He was a champion in Stuttgart after the 1991 match at Kiawah Island, won the European Open at the K Club the week after the 1995 match at Oak Hill, and has now completed a unique "treble".

"There is no secret about it," said Langer. "I am just one of those people who can forget what is behind them and focus on what is ahead. That is what everybody should be able do do. You cannot live in the past."

Eamonn Darcy had a closing 70 for a seven-under-par 281 to be joint 16th and clinch his Tour card for 1998. Darcy won £9,734 to move up to 94th in the Volvo Ranking. Des Smyth improved his chances of earning an exempt place by beating 70 for the third successive day, his closing 69 giving him a share of 21st place with among others, Ryder cup captain Seve Ballesteros, on 282. Smyth won £8,212.

Padraig Harrington (71), Philip Walton (70), and Paul McGinley (68) all tied 27th on 283 to win £7,200, the most significant result being that Harrington has moved up two places to 13th in the Volvo Ranking.