Big Bertha puts Monty in control : GOLF

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The Independent Online
The partnership of Big Monty and Big Bertha put the carp among the pink flamingos here yesterday. Colin Montgomerie shot 63 in the second round of the Desert Classic and it enabled the rotund Scotsman to open a three-stroke lead at the halfway sta ge. "The leaderboard," Montgomerie acknowledged, "is looking very, very strong."

He can say that again. The posse is headed by some experienced bounty hunters: Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Nick Price, Howard Clark and Ernie Els. The odd men out, in that they have not won a major championship, are Montgomerie and Clark. Els, the defending champion, predicted that Norman's 64 in the first round would not be improved upon this week.

Montgomerie had scored 63 three times before in his career, most notably in Portugal in 1989 when he won his first professional title by a disarming distance. What he had never done, before yesterday, was to compile 10 birdies in one round and, not surprisingly, he sang the praises of Callaway, an American company that has persuaded him to play their clubs in preference to Wilson.

His driver is the Big Bertha, an old friend, and he is still using a Spalding putter. With both he was particularly effective but he reckons that the new irons, which have extra-large heads, have given him an extra dimension. "They're going an awfully long way," he said. "It's as if I've got one more club in the bag."

To illustrate his point, he mentioned the 16th where he had 150 yards to the pin in the face of the wind. "I would normally have hit a six-iron but I hit a seven-iron to within a foot. This is a fantastic start for me, not just for this tournament but for the rest of the year. I feel I've got more height, more carry. They're the easiest clubs to hit I've ever seen." His solitary bogey came at the ninth where he missed from feet but otherwise Monty had the Emirates course in the palm of his hands.

He advanced to 13 under par, Norman and Couples to 10 under. Norman said the par fives on the back nine "butchered" him. He failed to birdie the 10th and took six at the 13th after hooking his drive into the desert. The 18th is a classic finishing hole: par five, 547 yards with a lake in front of the green. Norman's drive left him 230 yards to the front of the green and, typically, he went for it.

He hit his three-wood well but not well enough and the Great White Shark's ball, a few feet short of terra firma, dived into the lake. Norman is said to be on $350,000 (£166,000) to play here plus the fuel to fly his Gulfstream jet and the last thing hishosts want to see is a golf ball disturbing the sensitive watering hole at the 18th. It is not only home to the flamingo but to expensive carp that have been imported from Japan. A marine biologist was flown in from England to ensure the survival of thefish, and they could do without an aerial bombardment from Norman or anybody else.

"It was always going to be touch and go," Norman said of his approach shot. After taking a penalty drop, Norman pitched to eight feet and made the putt to save par. Meanwhile, Monty's clubs became a talking point among his fellow professionals.

Norman's view was that they were of psychological, rather than practical, benefit to Montgomerie. Price described them as ugly. "I couldn't use them," Price said. "I'm a traditionalist and they're so radically different." Couples, who plays with Lynx, said his company is producing similar over-sized irons. "The days when you held up a club and said it was a thing of beauty have gone," Couples said. "They're going to get uglier and uglier. The idea is that if they're easier to hit for a 20 handicap player they should be easier for a professional. Walter Hagen is probably looking down on us and laughing."

Dubai Desert Classic (Emirates Club) Leading second-round scores (GB and Irl unless stated): 131 C Montgomerie 68 63. 134 F Couples (US) 65 69, G Norman (Aus) 64 70. 135 H Clark 68 67; N Price (Zimb) 66 69. 136 R Burns 67 69; S Cage 68 68; P Fulke (Swe) 70 66; E Els (SA) 68 68. 137 E O'Connell 67 70; R Goosen (SA) 69 68; S Tinning (Den) 67 70. 138 S Bottomley 71 67; S Richardson 69 69; W Riley (Aus) 67 71; M James 71 67; B Langer (Ger) 70 68; P Walton 69 69; P Linhart (Sp) 71 67. 139 C Rocca (It) 70 69;M Lanner (Swe) 70 69; D Clarke 71 68; P Curry 69 70. 140 D Gilford 70 70; R Willison 69 71; A Cejka (Ger) 69 71; P Baker 67 73; G J Brand 67 73; J Townsend (US) 71 69; A Oldcorn 70 70; S Struver (Ger) 70 70; A Sherborne 73 67; P McGinley 72

68; M Mouland 72 68; M Campbell (NZ) 69 71; G Levenson (SA) 72 68.