The other riveting tournament within a tournament was the Order of Merit scrum. Six golfers came to Valderrama with a mathematical chance at taking the top spot, but all the drama centered on Europe's three keynote players—Clarke, Westwood and Colin Montgomerie, who was trying to keep alive one of the most remarkable streaks in golf, his run of seven straight money titles. At the Volvo Masters the week before, Clarke had finished second to earn $222,220, while Westwood tied for third, collecting $112,600 and allowing Clarke to take over the top spot by $62,519 (with a season's total of $1,536,013). Montgomerie headed to Valderrama a distant sixth, with $976,812. He needed a victory even to have a prayer at staying on his throne.
On Thursday all three players seemed rattled by what was at stake. Westwood called his opening 72 "an absolute pile of rubbish"—and he played the best of the bunch. Clarke had only one birdie during a 74. Monty's 75 was lowlighted by a four-putt double bogey on the 17th. "I tried on every shot, and I will never give in," Monty said, fuming. "You know me too well for that."
This sounded like little more than spin until Friday morning when Montgomerie, in the second group out, knocked a sand wedge into the hole from 100 yards on the par-4 2nd hole for an eagle and topped that with an ace on the 195-yard 12th. Those two electric shots anchored a 67 (a score only one player all day would beat) and shot Montgomerie from 47th place to 11th. Clarke responded to Monty's challenge with a 70, but Westwood could do no better than a second consecutive 72.
Montgomerie's reign, however, all but ended on Saturday when he made three bogeys over his final five holes to finish with a 73 and fall into 14th. Afterward he loosed one of his patented 30-second scorched-earth debriefings. "My putter went cold and that was that," Monty said. "Don't mention the Order of Merit, O.K.? Please, I've had enough. You understand? We'll talk about it tomorrow. O.K.? If you leave it for a day that would be great. Thank you very much." Then the great man stormed off. It was nice to see him bow out gracefully.
Tied at 144, Westwood played in the group immediately in front of Clarke on Saturday, and he seemed inspired by the audience, shooting a stout 68 to move into eighth, 22 spots ahead of Clarke, who struggled to another 74. Westwood, a 27-year-old Englishman, is so laconic he makes Fred Couples look energetic, but he was prepared to do battle, in part because he was competing against his best mate, as has been the case throughout the season. At the PGA Championship, "we had a few too many Long Island iced teas," said Westwood, "and decided to have a bet because it was so close. We decided that we'd have a pound on it."
Westwood and Clarke travel together, practice together and almost always dine together, but last week was so taut they broke from all those routines and hardly spoke. On one night they were at the same restaurant at the same time—and ate at separate tables. "It's been a wee bit awkward," Clarke said.
Come Sunday the big-boned Irishman could muster only a 70, putting him in 17th place. That meant Westwood needed to finish sixth or better to secure the money title, and he rose to the challenge. West-wood, who tied the Euro tour record by winning six times this year, made seven birdies in his first 13 holes to move into a tie for second, but he nearly spit the bit at the 17th. He sliced his drive deep into the trees that guard the inside of the dogleg, into a horrific lie within a yard and a half of the OB line. He caught a huge break when he was given a free drop out of a stone-filled drainage ditch, but his punch-out clipped the trees and forced him to lay up his third shot short of the pond. A bloodless nine-iron from 160 yards allowed him to salvage a scrambling bogey and to fall no further than fifth. A superb clutch par at the terrifying 18th guaranteed that he would drop no lower. Clarke met him behind the green, offering a manly hug and a very shiny one-pound coin.
The 17th is without a doubt the worst hole in championship golf, but as West-wood showed, it sure makes for fun viewing. As the disasters piled up during the final round, all that was missing was a windmill and carnival music to complete the atmosphere. Price came through immediately after Westwood, in second place, only one shot behind a surging Weir. He proceeded to dump his third shot into the pond and chunk another approach so pathetically it barely reached the front of the hazard. He took an 8 and tumbled to fifth. Mark Calcavecchia and Tanaka, playing in the final two groups, followed with water balls of their own, notching a pair of 7s. But their blunders were overshadowed by that of Woods, who on Sunday arrived at 17 only two strokes back of Weir and gunning for eagle.
Alas, he slashed his drive into Westwood-ville, punched .out, laid up, and spun his fourth shot past the pin to the precipice of the shaved back. The ball teetered for a moment, then inched back down the length of the green and into the water. Woods took a double bogey and had to get up and down from the back bunker on 18 to make bogey and shoot 72, keeping alive his streak of 51 straight rounds of par or better. Though he failed in his goal to become the first man to finish a season with an unadjusted scoring average below 68, Woods did break Nelson's 1945 record of 68.33, by .16 of a stroke (chart, left). After his tie for fifth, however, Woods was hardly in a celebratory mood. "I'm just glad we don't ever have to come back here again," he said.
Weir, meanwhile, made an airtight par on 17 to all but assure the victory. He hit his first 14 greens in regulation during the final round, the same kind of precise, calculating golf he had displayed in his starmaking performance at last month's Presidents Cup. Though he now deserves to be mentioned among the front ranks of players, Weir seems likely to remain the same polite, unassuming guy who happily calls Draper, Utah, home. Asked on Sunday if he was going to blow his outsized winner's check on any expensive toys, he said, "My wife and I have too much sense for that."