Golf: Faldo and Monty give monster a run for its money

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The Independent Online
Colin Montgomerie shot 70 and looked suicidal; Nick Faldo shot 72 and was positively philosophical. "I've left my birdie barrage for another day," Faldo said. Neither tamed the "monster", as Oakland Hills is called although several Americans were under par.

The most extraordinary thing about the US Open is not that Monty scored level par and was disgruntled but that the course behaved so well after being lashed by a violent thunderstorm on Wednesday. Ground staff were working until midnight, pumping water from the fairways, greens and bunkers. The eighth fairway, for example, was under six feet of water but yesterday there wasn't a trace. At least three inches of rain fell in less than an hour but that's only an estimate. The computer that records such statistics was short circuited by the rain.

There were the occasional soggy lies, and if the greens were not as firm as the United States Golf Association would have liked, they were not as slow as had been anticipated. Faldo, the Masters champion, said the man who wins the US Open will have to "churn out the pars." In the first round Faldo had 16 pars, two bogeys. He opened with a par barrage. "I didn't hit it close enough with my irons," he said. "That was about the worst score I could possibly have had." In contrast to Montgomerie, and the Irishman Philip Walton who shot a one under par 69, Faldo did not give an impersonation of a metronome.

Faldo's dropped shots came at the 7th where he hit a six-iron into a bunker and the 15th where he three putted. Like John Daly, Faldo is using a zero iron (more clout than a one-iron) which has a loft of 12 degrees. He used it on seven occasions yesterday. "It has the same effect as a three-wood and is perfect for this course," he said.

Tiger Woods, the 20-year-old US amateur champion, also looked perfect for the course and was poised to join the leaders when he suffered a dramatic collapse. He was three under par with five holes to play and proceeded to drop nine shots, finishing with a 76. Woods, who played in the US team in the Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl last year, went to the turn in 33 and staggered home in 43, including an eight at the 16th. He wasn't the only one to be stood up after flirting with the lead. Frank Nobilo, the New Zealander who plays on the European Tour, got to three under, missed a short putt that would have given him the outright lead at four under and dropped shots at the 16th and 18th for a 69.

Montgomerie and Walton, European Ryder Cup colleagues, played almost flawless golf but once again Monty was dissatisfied. "I didn't convert my opportunities and that is something you simply have to do. I was hoping for a lot better. I missed a lot of chances." Montgomerie appeared on the leaderboard - the frontrunners were the former US Open champions Payne Stewart with 67 and Lee Janzen with 68 - until he bogeyed the 18th. He hit his approach shot to the left of the green, his chip out of the rough was too strong and he missed a 10 foot putt coming back. Monty had three birdies, which was three more than Faldo, but had a four at the par three ninth where his ball was plugged in a bunker. "I was very unlucky," he moaned. There was a similar refrain when he lost a winning position in the Alamo English Open last Sunday.

Walton missed only two fairways and birdied the 2nd, 8th and 10th. The second measures 523 yards and Walton was on with two drivers. At the eighth, he holed a 20-footer downhill, and at the 10th, sank a putt from around 15 feet. He bogeyed the 7th and 12th and was fortunate at the 16th where he drove into the left rough but gained relief on the grounds of casual water.

Ian Woosnam joined Faldo on 72. The Welshman, who birdied the first, said: "I'm driving badly, putting badly and hitting my irons badly." Apart from that his game was okay. Woosnam was playing with Tom Watson who gained a rare birdie at the 18th for a level par round of 70. At 465 yards the 18th plays more like a par five but the 46-year-old Watson hit driver, five-iron and rolled in a 15-footer for a three.

Watson, who won the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, ending a nine year barren run, has been plagued by putting problems but yesterdayhe said: "My long putting wasn't real good but I made a lot of short putts and I'm very happy about that. I can't complain about a 70. Any time you shoot even par in the US Open you've played a good round of golf." He should try telling that to Montgomerie.