Elkington leaves Monty green: Golf

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The Independent Online
For the Masters class in putting that both Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie feel they need for success at Augusta National next week, they could have done worse than watch Steve Elkington win the Players' Championship for the second time.

"That is the best putting performance I have ever had," the Australian confirmed after clinching a seven-stroke victory in the first tournament to feature all the top 50 players in the world since the ranking started.

Elkington, who won $630,000 (pounds 400,000), was so sharp on the Sawgrass greens that Scott Hoch was ready to admit defeat, barring an "act of God", well before the end. Hoch had been only two behind at the start of the final round, but was battling for second place after a double bogey at the fourth.

"I guess there are only so many eight and 10-foot putts given to each group and Steve was using up all ours," Hoch said. "If I had putted as he did, then it could have been a different story."

Montgomerie finished 12 shots behind Elkington's 16 under total but added a seventh place to his record of 20th, fourth and 19th in his month on the Florida swing. Only one department of his game, he thinks, is holding him back from gaining his first US win. One of those missed opportunities came when the Scot lost a playoff to Elkington at the 1995 USPGA at Riviera.

"I personally thought it was a monumental effort to finish in the top 10 here the way I putted," Monty said. There was to be more in the same vein. "If I had putted half decently, I could have given Elkington a run for his money. I have proved for 10 years as a pro that I hit the ball okay, but the putting is my downfall. It was the same at Riviera. I could have won that by six shots."

Montgomerie spent Sunday playing with Brad Faxon, one of the best at holing out on the US tour, and arranged to play a practice round with the American at Augusta a week today. "Today was not the right time to ask him how he does it. I am No 3 in the world and I should win more than I do, and that is down to holing out. At Augusta, I will probably not spend much time on the course in practice, just on the putting green."

Monty is spending this week on holiday with his family at Lake Nona, the complex where Faldo is based. His routine will be slightly different: the driving range in the morning and the gym in the afternoon. While you can prove anything with statistics, those from the Players' tend to support Faldo's case rather than Monty's.

Faldo, 24th overall, topped greens in regulation, was second in fairways hit but outside the top 50 in putts per greens in regulation, the category that Elkington topped. Montgomerie, however, was nowhere to be seen in driving accuracy, usually the bedrock of his game.

Elkington had spent three hours practising his putting in his hotel room waiting for his afternoon tee time. "I am thrilled with the way I won this tournament," he said. "I basically blew away the best field we have ever had and did it in good fashion. It sends out a message that has to be taken notice of. Winning from wire to wire was the most difficult thing I have had to do in golf."

The challenge facing John Daly is in a different league. The former USPGA and Open champion is returning to the Betty Ford Clinic in an attempt to overcome his alcohol dependency, putting a question mark against his participation in the US Masters.

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