Golf: Montgomerie fighting US jinx

Golf: Europe's leading player is becoming obsessed with ending his bout of Stateside `seconditis'
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The Independent Online
WHEN COLIN MONTGOMERIE tees off in The Players' Championship this afternoon, it will be for the 42nd time in a US tour events. Even without being constantly reminded by the media over here, the Scot is all too aware that he does so having failed to win any of those previous tournaments. To say winning on American soil has become an obsession for Europe's No1 player for the last six years, is no understatement.

Last week, at the Bay Hill Invitational, Montgomerie was given a sharp reminder of his Stateside status when he was drawn in the first group of the day. This is usually the preserve of the great unwashed, while the stars are in the seeded groups for television. Instead of contemplating the enticing prospect of playing a virgin course with no one in the way to hold him up, Montgomerie took it as a snub and, being Monty, voiced those thoughts publicly.

Arriving at the TPC of Sawgrass, the Scot was convinced he would be off this time in the last group of the day. He is not, but then he does have the company of John Daly, or, more particularly, the Wild Thing's fans. Montgomerie has had his problems with vocal spectators and the last thing he wants is further heckling incidents.

Nowhere other than America is winning revered more and nor do the Americans care for Montgomerie's record at home. Not even his wins in at the World Cup, as the leading individual, at Kiawah Island in 1997 and the precursor of the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay last year count. "The first was primarily a team event, but the other was a really good win, beating Ernie Els in the semis and Davis Love in the final, but it has had no impact over here," Monty said.

"I have proved myself in Europe and now I'd love to win over here," he continued. "I really would. People expect me to win and it does grind a bit. I have been second a number of times but experience has shown that if you are one ahead, you have to be three ahead. There is no point just going for the fat of the green. You have to attack and attack and attack because there will be 20 other guys doing that and one of them will win."

The only consolation in Montgomerie's near misses are that they have come in the bigger tournaments, twice at the US Open, once in the USPGA and once at the Players in 1996. Then he went into the water at the par- five 16th, while Fred Couples' approach at the same hole bounded over the pond thanks to a lucky bounce on a railway sleeper, allowing him to eagle the hole on the way to victory. "At least I do seem to play well on the tougher courses and this is as good as it gets," he said. "Every hole is a good think, a good test of golf. It has grown into a fantastic course over the last 10 years."

The scale of the tournament is most evident from the fact that the first prize of pounds 560,000 is greater than the total prize fund at a dozen European tour events. But it is only the first of two important tournaments in three weeks, with the first major of the year, the Masters, to follow at Augusta.

Montgomerie is certainly not saving himself for the latter. "I'll take any win now. I can't be picky. I'd be delighted to win here. It is tougher to win here than the Masters because there are 150 of the best players in the world and only 80 at the Masters."

Like Lee Westwood, Monty's form so far this year has been as slight as his figure. "I am trying to keep my mouth shut," he said. "There is food everywhere here but I have got to watch what I eat. I am the lightest I have been since I was 18 or 19."

But both Montgomerie and Westwood, as well as Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam, shot 79s in the final round at Bay Hill on Sunday. Westwood's answer was to consult Butch Harmon, Tiger Woods' coach, after his own mentor, Pete Cowen, returned home last week.

"I wasn't playing well and I didn't think there was any point in standing on the range without anything to work on," Westwood said. "Butch kindly said he would have a look and I started hitting it like my old self. It was the same thing I have been working on with Pete but he just put it over a different way."

Westwood was fifth on his debut at Sawgrass last year, which set the 25-year-old up beautifully for winning in New Orleans the following week. Such form is not far away, he insists. "This is only my fourth strokeplay event of the year and I haven't got a chance to get into any kind of rhythm yet."

In a practice match on Tuesday, Westwood and Darren Clarke gave Lee Janzen and Frank Nobilo "a good trouncing", which was a welcome tonic for the Ulsterman who has been brooding over three missed cuts in four events. "Darren has asked me a couple of times and I've given him my opinion," said Westwood. "At the end of the day we are trying to beat each other, so you don't give too much advice willingly," he added, smiling.

Side by side on the practice range looking in need of any advice going were Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros. The pair have won 11 majors between them but their plight was summed up by the fact that they were stationed between the likes of Durrant, Fabel and Hart. Faldo has fallen to 87th in the world and Ballesteros to 468th and have made one cut between them this season.

The prospect of adding to that tally is unlikely this week. The course is drier than in recent years and reminds Tiger Woods, who heads the field with 49 of the top-50 players in the world, of when he won the US Amateur at the Stadium Course in August 1994. Since then, the world No 1's popularity has exploded and when he tried to go into a nearby McDonald's with the Open and Masters champion, Mark O'Meara, a woman server started screaming his name hysterically.

"When you go to smaller places, people tend to react with greater enthusiasm and lose it a bit more," Woods said. "New York is the best place because they don't care about anyone."

CARD OF THE COURSE

Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par

1 392 4 10 424 4

2 532 5 11 535 5

3 177 3 12 358 4

4 384 4 13 181 3

5 466 4 14 467 4

6 393 4 15 449 4

7 442 4 16 507 5

8 219 3 17 137 3

9 583 5 18 447 4

Out 3,588 36 In 3,505 36

Total: 7,093 yards, par 72

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