Golf: Determined Monty stays level-headed

US Open: Woods strikes the right note as Westwood slips behind in the first round at Olympic
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The Independent Online
EARLY morning fog, San Francisco's summertime hazard, stayed away from the Olympic Club. It was just overcast and dull, which appropriately matches the nature of the US Open. Ernie Els may call it "boring golf" but he can be quite good at it given that he has won the title twice. Par after par is fine with Colin Montgomerie and the Scot made exactly the start he was looking for in the first round of the 98th version of this championship.

It was not easy, though. The US Golf Association do not intend it to be. Extreme patience is usually required from anyone connected with the event but the USGA showed they do have a lighter side with their pairings. If you are going to fix the draw - or "seed" as the Royal and Ancient like to say at the Open - you might as well make it interesting.

So Casey Martin, the man in the buggy, went off late in the day - at a time inconvenient for those newspapers from the east coast of America - with a former senior rules director of the USGA, Walker Cup player David Eger. Tom Lehman, Bernhard Langer and Steve Jones, born-again Christians all three, were grouped together, as were Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Tom Watson. Els was placed in the traditional grouping with the Open champion Justin Leonard and the US Amateur champion, Matt Kuchar. Montgomerie teed off with David Duval and Jim Furyk, making a threesome who feature on the list of best players yet to have won major championships.

Monty, with his favourite three-wood, found the first fairway, but then with the same club was short and right of the green. Hampered by an overhanging branch, Montgomerie had to chip from the thick rough to the left of the hole and saw his ball run to the far end of the green. His putt from 50 feet, however, was finely judged and he tapped in for a par. Furyk, meanwhile, had missed the fairway off the tee, pitched out of the rough, hit his approach to 12 feet and holed for a birdie.

If Monty thought there was an injustice there, he would have been swiftly disabused of the idea at the next, where he was the only player in the threesome to make par. To do it, however, he had to get up and down after his approach shot rolled back down the false front of the green. Holing from six feet did wonders for his confidence on the greens and after another five pars, he holed from six feet at the short eighth for a birdie.

Westwood did not survive the same stretch in such good shape, bogeying three of the first six holes. He was already a shot behind Woods when he failed to match the former Masters champion's up and down for a birdie at the first, and Westwood again took three from the rough around the second green for a bogey five. While Woods, concentrating on accuracy over power, bogeyed the fourth, he immediately responded by making birdies at the next two holes.

One man missing from the Olympic Club, but who was in northern California anyway on Wednesday, was Greg Norman. The world No 4 is missing his first major for six years after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder two months ago. Norman was touring his newly completed course at Wente Vineyards, but apart from his design work the 43-year-old Australian has tried to stay away from golf. "I thought I was not going to miss it," Norman said. "But then I turned on the local news and I saw all the guys and the course and heard how tough it was playing.

"It is tough missing a major but I've mentally told myself to shut my mind off. I'm sure the guys aren't missing me too much. It was funny watching some of the interviews with the players and seeing the strain on their faces."

With his recuperation ahead of schedule, Norman thinks he will be at full strength in six to eight weeks and could be hitting balls again in August. He is hoping to return to tournament play in November and be ready for the President Cup match in Melbourne the following month.

"The biggest thing with an injury like this is just to be patient," he said. "Two weeks ago I actually felt like I could pick up a club. Then all of a sudden you make a move and it bites you back. The mind is saying you are ready, but it's not. When I come back next year, I'm planning on a pretty full schedule up until May. I think when I start hitting balls again, my competitive juices are going to flow."