The race to become European Number One gathers pace in The Algarve this week with the inaugural Portugal Masters at Oceânico Victoria Golf Club in Vilamoura.
England’s Justin Rose resumes his quest to capture the Harry Vardon Trophy for the first time and a first victory on European soil for five years would go a long way to help him achieve that long-held ambition.
Rose is currently third on the Order of Merit with €2,247,535 from ten events and victory at Victoria – worth €500,000 from a prize fund of €3 million – would carry him to the Number One spot going into the season’s finale in the Volvo Masters at Valderrama.
A first round defeat by Hunter Mahan of the United States in the HSBC World Match Play Championship last week at Wentworth Club was a disappointment to Rose, who admits that winning the Order of Merit is a huge ambition.
Rose said: “My goals were to play well in the Majors and get into the Top 20 in the world. I’ve done that, so now I guess it would be to win a tournament and the Order of Merit.
“I’ve had three seconds this year and a piece of silverware would definitely cap a good year for me. The Order of Merit is very achievable now. I’m certainly moving in the right direction and it’s a great goal which basically presented itself halfway through the season.”
Double US Open Champion Retief Goosen of South Africa, and Argentina’s Andres Romero, are also two players who have an outside chance of capturing the Order of Merit, providing they enjoy success over an impressive field ready to pit their skills against the Arnold Palmer-designed course which hosted the 2005 World Cup.
Goosen won the US Open Championship in both 2001 and 2004 and also topped The European Tour Order of Merit in 2001 and 2002. He is in ninth spot in 2007, while exciting young talent Romero, who captured The Deutche Bank Players’ Championship of Europe in July, is seventh.
England’s Lee Westwood, a two-time winner in 2007 at the Valle Romano Open de Andalucia in May and The Quinn Direct British Masters in September, returns to the competitive fray along with his ISM stable-mates Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and golf’s newest teenage sensation, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.
McIlroy had made a massive impact in just three events as a professional, finishing tied 42nd in The Quinn Direct British Masters – his European Tour debut – third in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and tied fourth in last week’s Open de Madrid Valle Romano, to earn €268,030.
A galaxy of winners from the 2007 International Schedule will also be in action, including Nick Dougherty, who triumphed over an international gathering to claim the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
The English duo of Ross Fisher and Graeme Storm, Scotland’s Marc Warren, Frenchmen Grégory Havret and Raphaël Jacquelin and the Spanish trio of José Manuel Lara, Pablo Martin and Alvaro Quiros, all ably supported by their compatriot and 13 time European Tour winner Miguel Angel Jiménez, will add to the international flavour of the event.
The distinctively ponytailed Jiménez is popular with the crowds wherever he plays but he will not be the most fervently supported player in the Portugal Masters; that honour undoubtedly going to local favourite José-Filipe Lima.
The 25 year old won the 2004 Aa St Omer Open but at that time was still representing France, having been born in Versailles. But with both his parents Portugese, Lima opted to change nationality at the end of the 2004 season and has not looked back, improving his Order of Merit position in both 2005 and 2006, and also representing Portugal in the 2005 World Cup alongside Antonio Sobrinho.
“My mother and father are both Portugese and I love this country, that is why I made the change,” said Lima, who will aim to become only the second Portuguese winner in European Tour history after Daniel Silva, who won the 1992 Jersey European Open. “It is important to play for yourself in golf, obviously, but it is also important to play for your family.”
The Portugal Masters will be the first tournament to be played at the Oceânico Victoria Golf Club, Vilamoura, since the 2005 World Cup in Portugal and the Welsh duo of Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge, who memorably triumphed on that occasion, are looking forward to rekindling the wonderful memories of that week in The Algarve two years ago.
The Portugal Masters further enhances Portugal’s commitment to The European Tour, with the country already having hosted two other tournaments on The 2007 European Tour International Schedule, the Madeira Islands Open BPI, won by Argentina’s Daniel Vancsik, and the Estoril Open de Portugal, won by Spain’s Pablo Martin.