Golf: Clarke leaves Monty with hands full

English Open: Stunning finish of five birdies gives leader a huge advantage for today's final round
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The Independent Online
FOR DAVID CARTER, England's World Cup winner with Nick Faldo last November, the matter of stopping Colin Montgomerie is very straightforward. "You have to cut his legs off," Carter said. He was joking, of course, but Carter, the 26-year-old who was born in South Africa, did pull the rug from beneath Monty's legs when winning a play-off for the Irish Open last year. "I was lucky," he admitted. "I got away with murder."

Darren Clarke will not have to take such extreme measures thanks to another stunning finish of five birdies in a row. Until Clarke extended his lead in the Compass English Open to five strokes, the most ominous move of the third round came from the Benson & Hedges and Volvo PGA champion. Montgomerie began the day seven behind the Irishman but a 65 had the Scot back where he wanted to be.

"I said at the start of the week that I wanted to be in contention on Saturday night," Montgomerie said. "It might have looked as if I was not too bothered this week over the first two days but that is just not me. I am not here just to make up the numbers."

At 11 under, Montgomerie was tied with the other two members of last year's Scottish Dunhill Cup team, Andrew Coltart and Gary Orr, Carter, John Bickerton and Australia's Stephen Leaney. Of the group, Coltart had the best round with a 64 despite missing six other good chances although the day's low score came from Sweden's Robert Karlsson with a 63, two outside the course record.

Once again it looked as if the mere sight of Montgomerie's name on the leaderboard would be a factor in today's final round. "Intimidation is the wrong word," said Orr. "It is not like he is going to beat you up. But we know what he is capable of shooting. I am going to have to play very well to win. Given good conditions, Monty is not going to score worse than 66 or 67 tomorrow."

"He's the man to beat," added Carter. "He knows he's the man to beat and he walks around as if he's the man to beat. But everyone is expecting him to win and that might help myself or some of the others who aren't expected to win."

But when on the sort of form Clarke is now showing, following a poor run at the start of the season and with the lead he commands, he has every expectation of defeating the Scot for his first win of the year, just as he did at the B&H and the Volvo Masters last year.

Much of the good scoring came early in the day, but conditions worsened as the leaders played the front nine. The heavy showers, however, passed over and Clarke was able to recover from back-to-back dropped shots at the fifth and sixth.

A birdie at the ninth brought him back to level par for the day and his determination to avoid the sort of third-round collapse he suffered at Wentworth last week became apparent on the way home. The result was a round of 67, some 10 strokes lower than at the equivalent stage in the Volvo PGA.

On Friday, Clarke had birdied each of the last five holes and he repeated the trick to put a decent amount of clear water between himself and the pack in second place. He holed from 15 feet at both the 14th and 15th, hit a seven-iron to six feet at the short 16th, chipped and putted for a birdie at the 17th and holed from 10 feet at the last.

"If I continue to play the way I have been playing, I'll be OK," Clarke said. "It won't make any difference who else is on the leaderboard. I'll be more concerned with my own game. It was nice to turn an average day into a very good one. Nothing much had happened on the front nine and I got to the 14th tee and thought about my finish yesterday and that there was no reason not to do it again. I was getting a bit disillusioned on the front nine but Billy [Foster, his caddie] kept harping on at me to keep going."

Apart from his winning run, what makes Montgomerie especially dangerous is that he is not complaining about his putting, so often. "I am feeling good with the putter, hitting it on line, hitting the pace OK," he said. "I just need to read the lines." But Clarke is also on top form on the greens, single putting 10 of the last 11 greens.

For both Montgomerie and Clarke, this is their last appearance before heading for the US Open at Pinehurst. "I love the US Open," Montgomerie said. "I must admit I am going there with as much confidence as I possibly can."