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  • Alistair Tait

Shambles in Southern Spain

Let’s hope today’s conclusion of the final round of the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters at Valderrama goes a lot better than the denouement of the 2002 Volvo Masters Andalucia over the same golf course.

When the European Tour season ended with a whimper instead of a bang.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the conclusion of the 2002 European Tour season was the biggest anti-climax since the European Tour was officially formed in 1975.

And it may have cost a player the chance to play in the U.S. Open.

Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie were declared joint winners of the 2002 Volvo Masters. They tied on 3-under 281, and were still tied after two playoff holes when darkness halted play. The tour offered the players joint victory and they jumped at it. Good news for Montgomerie. His playoff record was 0-7.

"With my play-off record I am delighted to call this a win," Montgomerie said.

Ever the gentleman, Langer had no qualms about the outcome.

"It's great to win, whether on my own or sharing with Colin."

This was the finale to the 2002 season. Every other tournament that year produced a winner, but when it came to the event that punctuated the season, it was decided two winners were better than one.

It was like the referee deciding there wasn’t going to be more penalty kicks in the FA Cup final after the teams had finished all square after five kicks. Or decreeing that nine innings was enough in the seventh and final game of the World Series, and declaring the Toronto Blue Jays and St Louis Cardinals joint champions.

It was a huge let down, to say the least

The late David Davies, The Guardian’s former golf writer, didn’t hold back. He wrote:

“The 15th edition of the Volvo Masters ended in a shambles last night… this was both a farcical and avoidable situation.”

He was right. I wrote pretty much the same in my Golfweek report.

Even though darkness falls early in Southern Spain, the European Tour and tournament organisers didn’t take that sufficiently into account. The great god that is TV dictated late starting times on Sunday. Play finished so late there wasn’t time for another playoff hole. And since both players had commitments the following day, then we got two champions. It would have been more satisfactory if they’d flipped a coin to determine the winner.

The outcome wasn’t helped by a long look at a possible infraction Montgomerie might have committed on the 10th green. The Scot appeared to address his ball as it was still moving. European Tour chief referee John Paramor reviewed the incident with Montgomerie. The then seven-time order of merit winner was adamant the ball was at rest when he addressed it. TV evidence wasn’t conclusive enough to assess a two-shot penalty, even though it looked as if the ball was moving.

The potential two-shot penalty had serious repercussions. Bradley Dredge bogeyed the final hole to finish two shots out of the playoff. Had Montgomerie been docked two shots then Dredge would have finished joint second.

The Welshman finished 18th on the money list in 2002. That potential shared second place finish would have pushed him into the top 15. It would have meant a place in the following year’s U.S. Open. Dredge hadn’t played in a U.S. Open at that point in his career. He had to wait until 2017 to make his U.S. Open debut.

I had breakfast with a prominent European Ryder Cup a few days after Valderrama, who was adamant Montgomerie should have been penalised. He said the overall feeling among the players was the ball had been moving on the 10th green when Montgomerie addressed it There was even talk of Dredge’s management team taking the tour to court over the ruling.

The whole situation was very messy, a most unsatisfactory way to close out what had been a great year and, as Davies said, a complete shambles.

#JustSaying: “I’m certainly not a saint out there on the golf course. In fact, far from it. Like when you make a three putt and become upset. I take one step back and remember there are far more important things going on in the world than golf.” Bernhard Langer

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