Golf: Game on as Monty digs in for battle

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AS A BATSMAN in his youth, Colin Montgomerie hated to lose his wicket. This was unfortunate given his tendency to charge down the pitch to spinners and get stumped. "I always thought they needed the seven-iron over the top treatment but it did not always work," he explained. When it comes to spin-doctoring, Montgomerie is equally inept, finding it impossible to stay on-message. Whatever Montgomerie may say about his ambitions for winning a sixth successive Order Of Merit title, his performance over the back nine at Jerez spoke far louder.

The Scot, out in level par, came home in 31 with eagles at the 12th and the 16th and a birdie at the last. His 67 took Montgomerie to seven under par and second place, three strokes behind Peter Lonard, whose 66 was the best round of the day.

No one would be happier for the Australian should he make the Volvo Masters his maiden tournament victory in Europe than Monty. Anything that makes it harder for his main rivals suits the money-list leader. Darren Clarke, who shared first place overnight, did himself no favours with a 73 to drop back to four under.

Lee Westwood, however, did not drop a shot in his 68 and at six under shares third place with Jose Maria Olazabal, Jarmo Sandelin and Peter O'Malley. "I was hoping at the start of the week that someone would finish in front of Darren and four people would be ahead of Lee," Montgomerie said. That scenario would have made his own performance irrelevant. "But now I feel I have to take care of things myself rather than rely on others.

"I always felt Lee was going to be in contention and it appears he is playing the golf to finish in a position where I have to play some golf myself. Whatever he does, I have to react. This is and will be a good tournament and I'm glad for everyone that it is all going to become quite tense. I'm glad for myself because that's what I relish and hopefully always will."

Montgomerie just cannot pass up a challenge. "I'm a very competitive person and competitive people like it better when it gets quite tense. I have a huge ambition and a huge will to win, though I probably hate to lose more than I love to win. I'm fortunate that I have found a sport which I like doing and which brings out my competitive spirit." But just in case the wrong impression might have been given, he added: "I'm still downplaying the Order Of Merit, but I am in position to win this tournament."

Montgomerie was able to track Westwood all the way round the Montecastillo course as he was playing in the group immediately behind with Ernie Els. The South African is still not back to his best and a 71 left him on three under. Scoring became more difficult as the wind increased throughout the day on the exposed Jack Nicklaus-designed layout. The last, for example, required a six-iron second shot on Thursday for Westwood and only a sand iron yesterday, which he hit to eight feet for his fourth birdie of the round, while Montgomerie played the same hole with a five-iron off the tee and a pitching wedge to the green.

Westwood's only major blemish came at the seventh, where his second found the water, but he was able to drop on the green and holed a 40-footer for par. Moments later Montgomerie three-putted the same green, missing from four feet, but his fortunes improved as he eagled the 12th for the second day running from 30 feet, added another at the 16th from 20 feet and holed from 25 feet at the last, just as he had done on Thursday.

"He must be putting badly again," was Westwood's knowing observation. The 25-year-old was quite content with his position and that his various injuries have not been affecting his game. "I'm in a good spot," he said. "Apart from being ten ahead, it's where I'd like to be. As long as I'm in touch with Monty and not too far off the lead, that's fine. It is only halfway round."

"There are still 14 miles to go," Montgomerie said, although a tour of Montecastillo is considerably more than the usual seven miles as the distances between greens and tees are nearer to par-fives than par-threes. But, at last, it's game on.