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Monday, 25 October 2004
Europe's magnificent Ryder Cup Team will be reunited en masse this week for the first time since their record 18 ½ - 9 ½ triumph over the United States when the heroes of Oakland Hills Country Club compete in the season's annual climax, the Volvo Masters Andalucia.

The spectacular setting of Club de Golf Valderrama on Spain's Costa del Sol again affords the leading players on the Volvo Order of Merit the opportunity of playing for a prize fund of €3,750,000 and one of the most prestigious titles on The European Tour International Schedule.

As well as the dozen players who represented Europe with such distinction in Michigan last month, the elite field for the Volvo Masters Andalucia also contains five past champions and a pair of previous winners of the Harry Vardon Trophy - the prize for winning the Volvo Order of Merit.

Only two players have achieved the distinction of qualifying on all three counts - Ryder Cup winners in 2004, past Volvo Masters Andalucia champions and Volvo Order of Merit winners - namely Colin Montgomerie of Scotland and England's Lee Westwood.

Neither can catch the 2004 Volvo Order of Merit winner, Ernie Els, who sealed that title by claiming a record sixth HSBC World Match Play Championship, but the prestige attached to the title and the quality of the venue makes the event an important staging post at the end of a long, hard season.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland and Spain's Miguel Angel Jiménez, third and fourth behind Els and another South African, Retief Goosen, in the Volvo Order of Merit, are both seeking to win the event for a second time and hoist their season's earnings beyond the €2 million mark.

Also chasing a second victory is Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, while the remainder of The Ryder Cup Team - Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, David Howell, Thomas Levet, Paul McGinley and Ian Poulter - have their sights trained on the 17th Volvo Masters Andalucia crown.

The battle for places in the field for the Volvo Masters Andalucia went right to the wire in last week's Open de Madrid, as the ebb and flow of tournament golf provided frusutration for some and elation for others.

Australian Terry Price, who was in 63rd place on the Volvo Order of Merit going into the last qualifying tournament for the Valderrama event, played superbly to finish third in the Open de Madrid and moved up ten spots to 53rd, thus ensuring his place in the field.

England's Jonathan Lomas finished in a tie for 14th place in Madrid and that was sufficient to elevate him to 59th on the Volvo Order of Merit

Valderrama has been the stage for many thrilling contests since 1988, when Nick Faldo captured the first Volvo Masters Andalucia. Montgomerie edged out Sam Torrance for the Volvo Order of Merit in 1995 after playing the back nine of his life just 12 months after Bernhard Langer won the title, establishing the breathtaking course record of 62 in the process. That record still stands a decade later.

In 2002 Montgomerie and Langer were the protagonists in an epic play-off, which ended after four holes in the gathering gloom and the title was shared between those two great gladiators of the sport. Meanwhile another play-off was required to resolve the issues last year, when Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson beat Spain's Carlos Rodiles at the third extra hole.

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