Golf: Montgomerie constructs a new order

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FROM partners in crime to rivals this time. Colin Montgomerie, who was openly in awe of Nick Faldo's golf when he played with him in the Ryder Cup in September, can today replace Faldo as the leader of the Order of Merit and also succeed him for the honour of being the leading money-winner for the year. But first Monty has to win the concluding event of the season, the Volvo Masters here.

With a round to play, he leads by a shot from Darren Clarke and David Gilford and by three from Ian Woosnam, who also has aspirations to claiming not only the pounds 125,000 winner's cheque this afternoon but also the bonus of the same amount that goes to the winner of the Order of Merit.

Montgomerie's 67 yesterday, four under par, was his fourth successive sub-par score over this penal lay-out if one includes his final round last year, when he was only deprived of the title after a play-off with Sandy Lyle. No one else has managed that since the par was reduced to 71 in 1990; no one else has ever got to seven under par since then.

On the front nine, Montgomerie he only hit two greens in regulation, but some staunch scrambling restricted the damage to a one-over-par 36. His 31 coming home was set up at the 11th where he hit his second shot with a driver 250 yards to within eight feet of the stick. 'I'll never hit a better shot than that,' he said. He rolled home the putt for an eagle three and then birdied the 13th, 16th and 17th to finish in emphatic fashion.

Faldo, suffering from tendinitis and languishing 13 shots off the pace, is ill-equipped to retain his Order of Merit title from his own labours. 'I would feel sorry for him if he doesn't win it,' Monty said. 'He has come here not fully fit.'

But if Montgomerie even plays himself into second place on the money list, he will have maintained his goal of improving his position every year since he turned pro in 1987. He was fourth in 1991 and third last year.

There were only five sub-70 scores altogether on the first two days. In the third round there were seven. Some players, such as Woosnam, lamented the plethora of spike marks on the greens, but Gilford declared that yesterday was 'the best I have ever putted'. He only took 25 in his 67.

Clarke's 65 equalled the course record established by Jose Rivero in 1990, although it will not be registered as such because the adverse weather means that this week placing has been permitted in the fairways.

After his win in Belgium last month, Clarke bought drinks all round for the members at his home club, Dungannon in Northern Ireland. Would he repeat that generous gesture if he was to win again, he was asked. 'I think I might buy the club,' he replied. Certainly, Nick Faldo might buy him a drink.