Justin Rose insists that the cork oaks of Valderrama will be a bigger rival than Pádraig Harrington when he arrives in Spain for next week’s Volvo Masters and what promises to be a nerve-jangling battle for the European Order of Merit title.
The Englishman finished in a ten-man logjam for 21st place at Vilamoura, where his emotional compatriot Steve Webster cut a swathe through the field with the lowest closing round by a tour winner this season to take the inaugural Portugal Masters by two strokes from Sweden’s Robert Karlsson on 25 under par.
A final round 70 left Rose 12 strokes off the pace as Webster carded an attacking, eight under par 64 to bring an entertaining birdie-fest to an exciting conclusion on another scorching Algarve afternoon.
Rose earned €30,750 and while he remains third in the Order of Merit, he is a mere €657 adrift of Harrington and €217,952 behind leader Ernie Els with one event remaining.
Els is not playing the Volvo Masters, which means that Rose will earn enough to win his first Harry Vardon Trophy if he claims at least a share of third place at Valderrama and, of course, finishes ahead of the current European number one Harrington.
Yet he is already playing down the head-to-head nature of the season-ending event, where he will be paired with Harrington for the opening round on Thursday week.
“I've closed the gap on Padraig and on Ernie,” said Rose, who is fully recovered from the foot blisters that hampered his progress on Friday. “But the goal is to go there and win the tournament. If you do that, you win the Order of Merit. It is a double whammy.
“Pádraig is a tough competitor and he has got a great track record. But the ultimate competitor is the golf course and that's what I am trying to break down.”
Valderrama will be far tougher than the Victoria course, where Webster came from two strokes behind overnight leader Daniel Vancsik of Argentina to shave a stroke off the lowest 72 hole winning aggregate of the European Tour season.
The pivotal moment came at the par-five 12th, where Webster set up an eagle three with a towering five-iron to eight feet. Playing in the match behind, Vancsik pulled his drive into the water and bogeyed en route to a 71 and a share of third place with Peter Hanson (68), Fredrik Andersson Hed (66) and Lee Westwood (68) on 19 under par.
After picking up a cheque for €500,000 which ensure his presence in Valderrama, Webster dedicated his second tour win to his late mother Val, who died in May after a long battle with cancer.
“I lost my Mum in the early part of the season and that really knocked me about,” said an emotional Webster afterwards. “I didn’t think I’d even get my card. It was so hard there coming down the stretch because I was thinking about my Mum all the time. I know she was watching out for me today.”
Rory McIlroy closed his first European Tour campaign with a 68 left him in joint 56th place on seven under par and 94th in the Order of Merit with €277,255 from just four professional starts.
The Ulster teenager plans to hitch a lift home on a friend’s private jet today to begin a much needed three-week break before resuming his bid for his maiden victory in Hong Kong and Australia.
“I am just going to be like a normal teenager and do absolutely nothing,” McIlroy said, after a frustrating week on the greens. “I got a little aggravated at times, but I think that is just down to tiredness. I will have a couple of weeks off and start back fresh. I am just looking forward to everything ahead of me next year.
“My goal is just go out and play golf and I know if I go out and do that I am good enough to win. Once you get into the knack (of winning), it is not long before you know how to do it again.”
Dubliner Peter Lawrie broke par every day the first time this season to finish as the best of the Irish in a share of 16th place on 14 under par after a 68 and heads to Mallorca needing a top three finish to qualify for the Volvo Masters.
Gary Murphy put in a barnstorming eagle-birdie finish to finish joint 31st on 12 under after a 69 but Damien McGrane could only manage a level par 72 that left him 64th in the 73-man field on four under par.