A major plan executed to a tee

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Colin Montgomerie's superb start to the US Open yesterday may have taken one or two of his fellow competitors by surprise, but for his coach it was simply the game plan executed to perfection, writes Andy Farrell.

After Tiger Woods' epoch-making victory in the Masters in April, Montgomerie and Denis Pugh sat down and decided that they had to change their approach to major championships. It was time to hit the first tee running.

The traditional method, as advocated by Jack Nicklaus (the most frequent major winner of them all) was to hang around for 63 holes and then move forward by virtue of everyone else going backwards. In majors, when the test is at its more severe, it was just a question of letting others make the mistakes. "The truth is that most players give away tournaments, particularly majors," Nicklaus said. "In at least a third of my major wins, I was simply there to accept the gift if I could finish the tournament without making any dumb mistakes."

In normal circumstances this would be especially true of the US Open, with its narrow fairways and fertiliser-fed five-inch rough. But the message from Woods' victory at Augusta is that no one can afford to just hang around until the last nine holes: the Masters champion will be over the horizon by then.

"We talked about this after the Masters," said Pugh, "and in typical Monty fashion he just said you have to shoot a lower score than Tiger. Like most things with Colin, it's not a complex theory, just straightforward thinking.

"Tour events are all about low scoring, birdies and eagles, but Tiger has brought that mentally to majors. The game plan now has to be more aggressive. Players have to start taking on the golf course, rather than waiting for others to make mistakes."

Pugh thinks that those humil-iated by Woods at Augusta, will respond by raising their games. "It is rather like Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile. People will realise that they can raise their potential.

"If you pick the top six or seven guys that should be contending and say you can all have your "A" game this week, there is no doubt about it, Tiger will win. At the moment, Tiger's "A" game is the one and I think everyone would admit that. But if you take it over 20 weeks, then someone else might produce their "A" game more often.

"Someone like Colin knows that he has got to peak this week, which he has not done before. He has been close, he's lost in play-offs, but he has not brought his "A" game to a major. If he can do that, or someone else can do that, we will really find out how good Woods is."

Assessing the way Woods could be matched before the tournament, Pugh said: "The world-class players have to be looking to hit two of the par- fives in two, they have to hit a couple of wedge shots close and maybe the odd long iron or mid iron close and you have a 66, without really holing any any long putts.

"If they get a hot putting round going, they could be looking at the 63s or 64s, but they are not just doing it with the putter. They are doing it with their straight driving, their mid-iron play and their aggressiveness in taking on flags, which Nicklaus shied away from because he had no need to do it."