Canada’s Mike Weir produced the finest round of his life when he fired a four under par 68 under intense pressure to record a two-stroke victory in a dramatic finale to the WGC-American Express Championship at Valderrama.
Weir, 30, who proved his ability to handle pressure when he emerged with a haul of three points out of five at the recent Presidents Cup at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia, won a first prize of $1 million and the other big winner on the day was England’s Lee Westwood who closed with a marvellous five under par 67 that gave him second place worth $500,000 and meant that he had supplanted Darren Clarke at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit.
The Canadian started his final round one shot behind overnight leader, Hidemichi Tanaka, but moved ahead of his Japanese rival with a four under par outward nine of 32 and then held on as others round about him came to grief.
"It was a tough day out there. It’s a difficult golf course and I’m just delighted to come out on top,” the Canadian said.
“This means a lot to me. It’s a World Golf Championship event and what makes it so special is that I have been able to win against as strong a field as this.
“To be honest, at the moment, I’m more relieved than anything because, on this golf course, until you get past the 17th hole, you’re not quite sure what is going to happen. But I’m sure that when I wake up in the morning I will feel very, very proud.”
Westwood was also delighted to get finished relatively unscathed particularly as a bogey six at the 17th hole could have been an awful lot worse had he not received a free drop from a stone drainage ditch that was deemed to be an immovable obstruction.
“That’s probably the best six I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “As soon as I saw it lying in the ditch, I knew I’d get relief but, all the same, if I’d missed it, I could have been in someone’s back garden and then anything could have happened.”
Westwood, who has won six tournaments on the 2000 European Tour International Schedule, then admitted that winning the Volvo Order of Merit meant a lot more to him than he had been willing to admit while the tournament was underway.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as I was coming down the last. If you watch the TV pictures, you will probably see that my knees were twitching. The 4-foot putt I had to hole looked as if it was about 12-foot.
"It’s a great honour,” he said. “It’s a reward for all the good golf that I have played all season and I’ve got to say that, having found out how difficult it is to win one, I now realise what Colin (Montgomerie) has achieved to win seven in-a-row. That’s a colossal achievement and I don’t think it will ever happen again.”
At the end of a long season that started last November at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Taiwan, Westwood headed the Volvo Order of Merit with a record haul of 3,125,146 euro (£1,858,602). Clarke, who had gone into the Valderrama event with a 107,969 euro (£62,000) advantage over his great friend and rival, came second with 2,717,965 euro (£1,616,441) with the rest of the top six places being taken by Ernie Els, Michael Campbell, Thomas Bjorn and Colin Montgomerie.
On a day in which scores in the 60s were in short supply Masters Champion, Vijay Singh made a significant move with a four under par 68 that boosted him into a tie for third place alongside America’s Duffy Waldorf.
It was also a good day for Spain’s Sergio Garcia who ended his 2000 season on a high note with a best-of-the-day eight under par 64 that lifted him into a share of fifth place alongside Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and the unfortunate Tiger Woods and Nick Price. Both the American and the Zimbabwean had been challenging for the lead for most of the final round but succumbed to a seven and an eight on the treacherous 536-yard 17th hole and lost the chance to catch their Canadian rival.
Garcia finished the 1999 season in third place on the Volvo Order of Merit after winning both the Murphy’s Irish Open and the Linde German Masters but he has not repeated those successes during 2000 and needed his strong finish at Valderrama to boost him up to 21st on the Volvo Order of Merit with earnings of 599,240 euro (£356,383).
Harrington has had a much more successful season during which he has won twice at the Brazil Sao Paulo 500 Years Open and the BBVA Open Turespana Masters Comunidad de Madrid and finishes in seventh place on the money list with 1,350,920 euro (£803,426).