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Monday, 28 October 2002
The race to finish Number One on the Volvo Order of Merit and the equally important quest for inclusion in the top 115 gathers pace this week when the 59th Italian Open Telecom Italia is played at Olgiata Golf Club in Rome.

The tournament represents the final opportunity for many European Tour Members to secure all exempt status for 2003 and also the last chance to earn a place in the season-ending Volvo Masters Andalucia at Club de Golf Valderrama, next week.

Meanwhile at the upper region of the Volvo Order of Merit, Ireland's Padraig Harrington steps up his challenge to wrest the title away from South Africa's Retief Goosen. The gap between the pair remains €54,029 (£33,925) after the leading protagonists finished tied seventh in the Telefonica Open de Madrid.

Harrington, bidding to become European Number One for the first time, is one of 16 champions on the 2002 European Tour International Schedule playing in Rome following his play-off victory in the dunhill links championship over Argentina's Eduardo Romero, who earlier in the season won The Barclays Scottish Open.

Eight previous winners of the Italian Open Telecom Italia are in the field, including Frenchman Gregory Havret, who won his maiden title on The European Tour at Is Molas in Sardinia 12 months ago, beating Bradley Dredge of Wales by one shot.

Other past champions are Italy's own Baldovino Dassu, Mark James, Massimo Mannelli, Jim Payne, Ian Poulter, Dean Robertson, and Patrik Sjöland.

The event is one of the most enduring on The European Tour International Schedule, having been played since 1925 with a number of Major Champions in the Roll of Honour including Sir Henry Cotton, Tony Jacklin, Sandy Lyle and Tony Jacklin.

The tournament could also have a bearing on another issue involving the 1936 champion, Cotton. Going into the final fortnight of the season, there are some outstanding candidates for the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award, which went last year to England's Paul Casey.

Nick Dougherty of England, still only 20, leads the rookies in terms of position in the Volvo Order of Merit in 32nd place after a wonderfully consistent season, while Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell claimed a title, the Volvo Scandinavian Masters, on his fourth European Tour start and England's Richard Bland, a Challenge Tour graduate in 2001, was involved in a play-off for the Murphy's Irish Open.

Olgiata Golf Club, located 19kms north west of Rome near the town of La Storta, was designed by CK Cotton and hosted the World Cup of Golf in 1968 when Canada won the event and again in 1984 when the Spanish piar of Jose Maria Canizares and Jose Rivero won the title. That event is now under the World Golf Championships banner as the WGC - EMC2 World Cup.

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