With Ernie Els already installed as ‘el numero uno’, the fight for top Volvo Order of Merit honours was already over but there were still many battles to be won and lost in the Telefonica Open de Madrid.
Could Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter or Lee Westwood - all multiple winners on The 2003 European Tour International Schedule - close on Darren Clarke, who was not playing, in the chase for second place behind Els?
Would anyone force his way out of the pack into the Volvo Order of Merit top 60 to snatch a coveted place in the end-of-term Volvo Masters Andalucia the following week at Valderrama?
Who would emerge successful in the last ditch scramble for Tour playing privileges for 2004?
Could Sandy Lyle, winner of the 1985 Open Golf Championship and the 1988 Masters Tournament, win enough prize money to preserve his exempt status through The European Tour Career Official Earnings table?
Who would join the four Official World Ranking qualifiers in this last counting event to complete the Continental Europe and Great Britain and Ireland teams to contest The Seve Trophy at Campo de Golf Parador El Saler in Valencia a fortnight later?
Would Denmark’s Steen Tinning repeat his 2002 victory in Madrid and delay his retirement from tournament golf for one more week?
Questions aplenty on day one at Club de Campo with its spectacular Royal Palace backdrop.
Poulter (wrist strain) and Westwood (stiff neck) bowed out of the race to close on Clarke with last day retirements, but Harrington continued his ‘love affair’ with the course.
It was at Club de Campo that he triumphed for the first time on The European Tour, winning the 1996 Open de España, and to where he returned four years later to win the Masters de Madrid.
Now, as he took the lead on the final afternoon with a birdie at the 14th, the Irishman appeared poised to keep the pressure on Ulsterman Clarke for that second place. This he would have achieved if birdie putts of six feet and 15 feet had disappeared at the 17th and 18th respectively.
Harrington, however, was compelled to rue the ones that got away for as Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez swooped past him to secure the title so Harrington found himself sharing second place with England’s Paul Casey, Australia’s Nick O’Hern and Sweden’s Mårten Olander. Instead of winning the 233,330 euro (£162,288) first prize, Harrington collected 93,137 euro (£64,780) and the absent Clarke knew as he prepared for the Volvo Masters Andalucia that he would finish second in the Volvo Order of Merit for a third time in his career.
Meanwhile Gonzalez had earned himself another week in Spain. The Argentinian had celebrated his 34th birthday two days late by coming from 11 shots behind Casey at the halfway stage, and from six behind entering the final round. So with his first win on The European Tour since the 2001 Omega European Masters, Gonzalez lifted himself from 87th to 46th in the Volvo Order of Merit. He had secured his place in the Volvo Masters Andalucia at Valderrama.
Sergio Garcia, who opened with a 64 and closed with a 67 to tie sixth three behind Gonzalez, Ireland’s Gary Murphy and Denmark’s Anders Hansen hung on to their Valderrama spots - the last two by the skin of their teeth - but although Iain Pyman did not have the Volvo Masters Andalucia in his sights, he, too, had good reason to celebrate.
Yorkshireman Pyman had missed the cut. He had started the tournament in 117th place in the Volvo Order of Merit, and that is where he finished. The top 115 Members plus affiliate Members earn Category 7 Membership for the following year, and with both Luke Donald and Robert Rock, in 115th and 116th places respectively, the final card for 2004 went to the player in 117th place - Iain Pyman.
Veteran Scot Lyle teed off 144th in the table and pinned his hopes on finishing in the top 40 in the Career Official Earnings table, but he was sadly forced to retire with flu during round two.
Seve Ballesteros, as Captain for Continental Europe in The Seve Trophy, welcomed compatriots Miguel Angel Jiménez and José Maria Olazábal on to his team to take on Colin Montgomerie’s Great Britain and Ireland team.
Jiménez, who had finished 20th, overtook Swede Mathias Grönberg and Dane Søren Kjeldsen as the last Order of Merit qualifier while Olazábal, who followed his second place to Jiménez in Mallorca with joint 13th in Madrid after a closing 67, was Seve’s ‘wild card’ choice.
Alastair Forsyth finished with a brave 66 to tie 15th in the championship but could not catch David Howell or Brian Davis. So Davis claimed the last qualifying spot, and Howell was left on standby to replace Clarke. Montgomerie went for 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie, who battled to joint sixth in Madrid, as his Captain’s pick.
Defending champion Tinning’s opening 68 hinted an action-replay could be on the cards but he took 79 the next day and confirmed persistent back trouble would sadly force him on to the sidelines.
So, the questions had been unanswered, in a fascinating denouement that provided the enthusiastic spectators with much to enjoy, but as for many the curtain came down on The 2003 European Tour International Schedule so for the champion Gonzalez the play went on for another week with that late place in the Volvo Masters Andalucia.