GOLF Britons seek a little cheer

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reports from the Forest of Arden

The programme for the Murphy's English Open does not mince words. "At 31 years of age," it reads, "Colin Montgomerie stands as master of all he surveys." Which is not quite the view the man himself has when he pokes his head up for a peek.

Certainly he has won the Volvo Order of Merit for the last two years, a period in which he has collected five tournament titles, and almost picked up a major or two. The perception he puts on his own performance is not masterly, however. He feels like the Argentina rugby team: the rewards are not matching the performance.

"I've played six events and the worst I've finished is 15th," he said, "so it's becoming very, very consistent but I need a No 1 in the column. I'm extremely confident but I just want to get going. To win.

"At the same time you have to be patient with it. You can't win it if you want it too much, you have to let it happen. The first thing is to get into the top five and then take it from there."

Montgomery, the defending champion at this course near Coventry, has brought the man who taught him to play, Bill Ferguson, to coax him through this spell of "nearlyitis". His work on the greens has been a priority, not because Monty has been aiming and finding his ball going off at right angles but because it has assumed that most annoying of habits: refusing to drop.

"I've not had a 20-foot putt go in for two months," he moaned at the height of his frustration in last week's PGA Championship and as soon as one did Sod's Law (or Murphy's as it is known here) found another flaw for him. Early in the final round at Wentworth he was within two shots of the lead only for two wayward shots to the right to cost him double- bogeys.

Yet, if Montgomery has been falling just short, Ian Woosnam, the winner here two years ago, has simply been falling. His record in Europe to date has been played three, missed the cut twice, and the impression he gives is of a man with little idea of how to put things right.

Last week he saw John Jacobs, a former Ryder Cup player and captain whose coaching prowess is unquestioned, but more worryingly he is also consulting his caddie, Phil Morbey. When golfers begin to listen to their bagmen things are usually serious but Woosnam has taken heed and now has a more open stance.

"I now feel I'm aiming 200 yards left, but it's only 10 yards," Woosnam said. "I've had one or two wins but I've not been playing to my potential for the last four or five years. Things have been right for a week or two weeks but not for a six-month spell. I've been battering with it for years."

His new method at least allowed him to hit every green in a charity event on Tuesday, although he hardly sounded confident.

"I'm desperate," he said. "I've missed the last two cuts and I've never hit my irons so poor."