Golf: Master Monty closes the gap

FOR COLIN Montgomerie, the One To One British Masters became more of a one-two-two-two-one. Monty has not been outside the top two in his five visits to this Midlands venue. Having won the English Open four years ago, the Scot added the Masters title for the first time.

It is a run that could perhaps only be broken if the (British) Open was bizarrely ever staged at the Forest of Arden. While as far from a links as you can get, the course did provide a difficult test in windy conditions. For a man who two weeks ago missed his second cut in succession, it was an examination Montgomerie passed easily enough.

"This would not have happened if I had not made that phone call from Seattle," Montgomerie said. It was to Bill Ferguson, his old coach from whom he split in two years ago, on the Sunday night after the USPGA Championship last month.

"Problems were arising where they had not done so before. I hadn't performed properly since I lost a play-off in the Irish Open and that was two months before. My confidence was down. But instead of seeing someone else, I went back to the man who made me the No 2 in the world. I've been working hard, harder than I ever have before, and it is all credit to Bill."

Why, the question remains, did he leave Ferguson in the first place? "I got to No 2 in the world and wanted to improve," he said. "All I probably needed to do was hole a few more putts."

But there was no suggestion that Montgomerie, a healthy eater, had to add humble pie to the menu. "I should probably have made the call earlier but it was an easy decision to make after the way I played in Seattle," he said. "We have a lot of respect for each other. I used to caddie for him when I was 10. There are few people who I have known in this game for 25 years and I'm only 35. He has known my swing for 25 years."

For much of the day the winning of the tournament, without the necessity of a six-way playoff, was no certainty. Paolo Quirici, a 30-year-old from Switzerland who has not won on the European tour, led overnight but some 31 players started within four strokes of the lead.

Pierre Fulke, from Sweden, equalled the best round of the day with a 67 to reach the clubhouse at six under, where he was joined by the Argentinian Eduardo Romero. But the decisive break did not come until Montgomerie reached the 13th. There he hit a wedge to two feet and the Scot took sole possession of the lead when he added another birdie at the next.

But now Montgomerie arrived at the hardest stretch of the course, where the wind was dead against. After pars at the next two, a four at the par- five 17th, where he holed from 25 feet, proved good insurance for the last. A brutal par-three of 209 yards, Monty missed the green on the left and failed to get up and down. It did not matter.

Quirici, who left himself too much to do with a bogey at the 15th, ended tied for fourth with Andy Oldcorn and Ignacio Garrido. The Spanish Ryder Cup player was wearing a philosophical face after being penalised four strokes on Friday. His caddie, Pello, was downright distraught for it was he who left a rogue club in his employer's bag on Friday after his own practice session for this week's first stage of the Qualifying School.

Only pounds 34,000 now covers the top three on the money list. "The No 3 does not like being No 3," Montgomerie confirmed but he refuses to see remaining the No 1 in Europe as a priority. "Whether I have five money titles or six, it doesn't matter," added Monty, who won the PGA Championship earlier in the season.

But, intriguingly, the Scot is playing in all the four remaining order of merit events, while Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, the top two, are each missing one event. Clarke wasted an opportunity to overtake the young Englishman with a final round 75. Westwood closed with a 70 but was not happy with the state of his form. "I had my 'p' game with me this week - 'p' for pathetic," he said.

BRITISH MASTERS (Forest of Arden, Warwickshire) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 281 C Montgomerie 70 72 70 69. 282 P Fulke (Swe) 71 72 72 67; E Romero (Arg) 70 69 75 68. 283 A Oldcorn 71 73 71 68; I Garrido (Sp) 70 73 71 69; P Quirici (Swit) 68 73 70 72. 284 G Owen 70 71 73 70. 285 J Bickerton 70 75 73 67; R Claydon 72 73 68 72; S Torrance 69 72 71 73; D Chopra (Swe) 71 72 69 73. 286 G Chalmers (Aus) 72 73 74 67; A Kankkonen (Fin) 71 69 76 70; L Westwood 73 70 73 70; S Kjeldsen (Den) 72 71 72 71; I Woosnam 75 66 73 72; *S Garcia (Sp) 71 73 69 73; M Roe 72 69 71 74; M Farry (Fr) 73 72 67 74. 287 P Broadhurst 79 65 74 69; M Lanner (Swe) 71 73 73 70; M A Jimenez (Sp) 70 75 72 70; M Campbell (NZ) 71 69 76 71; P O'Malley (Aus) 73 71 72 71; C Rocca (It) 71 72 71 73; C Suneson (Sp) 69 69 75 74; O Karlsson (Swe) 75 67 71 74; C Hainline (US) 72 71 70 74; D Clarke 67 71 74 75. 288 R Coles 73 72 76 67; P Mitchell 75 70 73 70; M Long (NZ) 75 69 73 71; S Luna (Sp) 70 73 73 72; R Lee 69 74 73 72; R Drummond 72 72 69 75. 289 M Gronberg (Swe) 75 70 75 69; K Storgaard (Den) 75 69 75 70; G Hutcheon 72 70 71 76; C Mason 72 73 68 76. 290 *T Immelman (SA) 71 71 76 72; J Lomas 72 72 74 72; P Haugsrud (Nor) 72 72 72 74; D Borrego (Sp) 72 70 73 75; J Coceres (Arg) 74 70 71 75. *Denotes amateur.

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