GOLF: Guru guarantee good for Montgomerie

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IF THERE is one statistic of interest to Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood as they tee up at Sahalee today, it is that nine of the last 10 winners of the USPGA Championship have been first-time major champions. Also comforting for Montgomerie in particular, who in the year of his 35th birthday has finished eighth, 18th and missed the cut in the three majors so far, Mark O'Meara, at the age of 41, has suddenly become a major winner for the second time.

"Whether it happens at 35 or 40, I feel I can win a major," Montgomerie said. To that end, and much against his past philosophy, the Scot has been the first to arrive at the course each morning this week. "For the first time, I am really going out to practice," he admitted.

Montgomerie also arrived early to spend some time with Dave Pelz, a putting coach from Texas who he first got to know when at the University of Houston. "I regret not going to a specialist on the short game earlier," Montgomerie said.

"I have come off too many rounds this season having played well but just not got the reward that I deserved. I have had enough of that and I want to do something about it. The Open was the final straw. Missing the cut at the Open was pretty poor, but so were Loch Lomond and Ireland. I want to stay at the top because that's where I enjoy competing. I don't enjoy competing for 30th place."

Before Lee Janzen worked with Pelz, the guru guaranteed that his next tournament would provide a victory. Janzen duly booked the lesson for the week before the US Open. Rather than an instant reward, Montgomerie has more of a five to eight-year plan in mind to remain at the top. The first few sessions have gone well. "Dave is a very positive person. He has given me some positive thoughts and I feel I am putting better than when I arrived."

Keeping the ball straight off the tee is going to be a strong asset for Montgomerie on a course that is so closely lined with trees.

"There is a real chance that the winner might come from the European tour this week," Westwood said. "This is not the hardest course I've played in America but it is a very good test. It has a European feel." Compared to Wentworth or Woburn, however, "the trees are a little taller".

Tommy Armour, the "Silver Scot", was the last European-born player to win the USPGA. That was in 1930 and he was a naturalised American by then anyway.

Westwood has gone into each of the majors so far this year with the expectations high, because he had won the week before two of them and had recently had back-to-back victories before the other. He has avoided the trap this time by taking two weeks off. He spent the time on holiday in the Algarve but also took some time practising. "I wanted to keep my eye in, although I have felt a little bit rusty," he said.

Prior to the tournament, Sahalee, which just slips into the top-100 in a ranking of the best courses in the States, received mixed reviews. The PGA of America has made a concerted effort to discover new venues for their championship, as well as visiting established sites like Winged Foot, where Davis Love won 12 months ago.

The response from the players has been good, however, and they will enjoy it more than the US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. "It is not even close," Tiger Woods said. "At Olympic, you could hit a good shot and it would not stay in the fairway."

The landing areas are much flatter here, while the rough is not so thick and the greens not as small.

"The PGA is run by pros who know what is going on," Steve Elkington, the winner three years ago, said, "whereas the US Open is run by a bunch of amateurs."

Though Woods and the other big hitters will have to keep the driver in their bags, the approach shots are going to have to be shaped carefully around the cedar trees, the tallest of which are more than 100ft high.

Despite being the world No 1, Woods has been left behind in the major stakes by two of his neighbours at the Isleworth club in Orlando. O'Meara stands on the verge of equalling Ben Hogan's unique achievement of winning three majors in a year in 1953, while Janzen took the US Open.

"I know this is my last chance of winning a major this year but I'm not going to put myself under any more pressure than usual," said Woods, whose best finish this year was his third place in the Open at Birkdale.

"The important thing is to give myself a chance, be patient and not shoot myself in the foot. Last year I was guilty of being a little bit too rumbustious and not being as patient as I need to be."


Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par

1 406 4 10 401 4

2 507 5 11 546 5

3 415 4 12 458 4

4 386 4 13 176 3

5 195 3 14 374 4

6 480 4 15 417 4

7 421 4 16 377 4

8 444 4 17 215 3

9 213 3 18 475 4

Out 3,467 35 In 3,439 35

Total 6,906 yards, par 70