Golf: A rough guide to the fairway control freaks

Jim Cusick watches Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo keep their emotions under wraps at a clinic in the Borders
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The Independent Online
Colin Montgomerie, almost apologetically, confessed: "It's all science now." On a day out in the Scottish Borders yesterday to christen the Duke of Roxburgh's new championship course, professor Montgomerie and his academic faculty partner, professor Nick Faldo both put their personal views of the laws of mechanics to a final try out before their big exam in Troon next week.

Playing a contrived Scotland versus England match with the Duke of York and Gavin Hastings, both Faldo and Montgomerie also contrived to hide their thoughts or worries before their journey to Troon. They tried jokes. They tried smiles and they tried some golf. Montgomerie, king of the frown, even claimed he was having fun before he remembered the baggage he is carrying, apart from his clubs.

"I've been waiting seven years for this week," he said. The comment referred to the day the Royal and Ancient announced the Open would return to Troon, technically Montgomerie's home course.

Monty perhaps knows Troon better than all the players who will tee up on Thursday morning. This he knows. But the scientist inside him admits it may all count for nothing. Yesterday in front of a public "clinic" he said: "I hit a four iron off the back tee at Troon." The science lecture continued with Montgomerie qualifying the statement: "Of course it's all about yardages these days. It's all science. You can't ignore it."

Professor Faldo has never ignored his science. Like an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo, Faldo worships the god of mechanics. Before teeing off in the one-day match called the Roxburgh Challenge, Montgomerie tried to explain Faldo's law: "Nick hits a six iron 165 yards." Almost before the sentence had finished Dr Faldo qualified with "170".

Professor Montgomerie, laughing and swishing his expensive Calloway iron, said he hit his three iron lower than Faldo. Faldo picked up the Calloway and deliberately mis-hit the world's most popular golf club and tossed it aside. Only the man from Calloway would have wept.

Was Faldo relaxed? It is difficult to tell if you are judging him against Montgomerie, whose eyebrows can even look worried on their own. Both players, the burden of expectation and history still a few days from being placed on their shoulders, looked relaxed. You cannot tell if they are hitting the ball well because they always hit the ball well. Quite simply, at Troon the margins between success and failure will be microscopic.

Montgomery seems to realise the irony of an examination where he has already seen the questions and knows that even with a 99 per cent score he still might not come top of the class. "I'm playing the best golf of my life," he said. "I hope it can continue for six more days."

And the other professor? Dr Faldo has passed these exams before. Yesterday on the sixth hole, a 382yd par four, Faldo hit a straight 290yd drive. Nobody in the small crowd applauded much and Faldo said: "Must be a lot of good golfers around here." The comment marks the man. He is still looking for honours and who says he won't pass again.

After 18 holes on a course he had neither seen nor played, Faldo shot a 67 to give him and his royal playing partner a combined score of nine under par. Montgomerie shot a two-under-par 70, leaving him and Gavin Hastings with a six-under total, losing out to England for the Challenge Trophy.

On the side contest between the two amateurs, the Duke of York, a six- handicap player, and Gavin Hastings who plays off five, it was the duke who contributed more to his side's score.

But whether the scores at Roxburgh, on a day when the weather fluctuated between monsoon and sunshine, mean anything will only be determined next week. Troon will be long, tight and populated with the world's best. Roxburgh, the first championship course to be built in the Borders, allowed Faldo and Montgomerie to relax, a feeling both men may find difficult to remember at Troon.

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