Wednesday, 02 October 2002
The race to become European Number One reaches a critical stage at the dunhill links championship this week with Retief Goosen and Ernie Els almost neck and neck at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit.

The South African duo, who formed two thirds of the team who won the old Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews in both 1997 and 1998, are separated by a mere €12,487 (£7,807). Goosen, the reigning European Number One, regained pole position following his outstanding performance in the World Golf Championships - American Express Championship at Mount Juliet when he closed with a brilliant 62 to finish just one stroke behind Tiger Woods.

Goosen, the 2001 US Open Champion, has an excellent record at St Andrews where he won ten successive individual matches in the Alfred Dunhill Cup, a feat surpassed only by Greg Norman.

The second place cheque for €554,244 (£346,487) was enough to take him past the Open Champion but with €818,662 (£514,536) available to the winner this week there is everything to play for. Like Goosen, Els has a great record on links courses, finishing runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 2000 Open Golf Championship at St Andrews before winning the Open title for the first time at Muirfield in July.

Twelve months ago he finished runner-up to Paul Lawrie in the inaugural dunhill links championship after the Scot holed a wonderful putt from the "Valley of Sin" to win the title by a stroke. Lawrie, winner of the Open Golf Championship at Carnoustie two years earlier, built his victory on a course record 63 in the third round at St Andrews before closing with a 68.

Lawrie will be defending the title as a star studded cast of amateurs and professionals alike gather on three of the world's top links courses - The Old Course at St Andrews, the Championship Course at Carnoustie and the highly regarded Kingsbarns Golf Links.

In addtion to Els, Goosen and Lawrie, the field includes five other Major Champions in Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, José Maria Olazábal, Vijay Singh and Ian Woosnam.

The field also boasts nine of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup Team - Thomas Björn, Darren Clarke, Niclas Fasth, Pierre Fulke, Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie, Phillip Price and Lee Westwood in addition to Captain Sam Torrance.

Joining them will be a host of sporting legends such as Boris Becker, Ian Botham, Zinzan Brooke, Sir Bobby Charlton, Johan Cruyff, Kenny Dalglish, Kapil Dev, Darren Gough, Alan Hansen, Gavin Hastings, Franz Klammer, Gary Lineker, Michael Lynagh, Nigel Mansell, Tom Okker, Sir Steve Redgrave, Barry Richards, Marco van Basten and Gianluca Vialli.

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