Golf: Montgomerie leads battle of big men: Golf: Claydon weighs in with a 67 to trail fellow heavyweight by one shot after the first round of European Open

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The Independent Online
AT THE bingo houses on the Sussex sea resorts they may have a term for a couple of the leaders here: 88, two hefty golfers. Colin Montgomerie and Russell Claydon, who look as if they have never given anybody trouble about eating up all their greens, shot 66 and 67 respectively in the first round of the European Open here.

They were eating up the greens (on the soggy side) again here yesterday and, given the conditions, their scoring was exceptional. A small minority of the players finished under par on a blustery/stormy/sunny/balmy day which generally made the going hard. Seve Ballesteros and his compatriot Jose-Maria Olazabal are both at four under, two behind Montgomerie, one behind Claydon.

Big Monty and Big Russ were among a small minority and it would have been interesting to see how another former famous pupil of Greyfriars would have fared here. Claydon, from Gog Magog in Cambridgeshire, is shorter than Montgomerie but heavier and it does not bother him one ounce.

'I don't watch my weight,' he said. 'I would not eat salad just because it is good for me. I would be very surprised if you saw me jogging along Eastbourne pier.' He could have been speaking for Monty as well.

The two, though, have little in common apart from being at the top of the leaderboard. Claydon is capable of sensational rounds but cannot string four together. A few years ago, when Monty said he felt he was one of Europe's Big Six, a note appeared in a locker-room linking his name with that of Claydon . . . and four other extra-large players on the European Tour.

Monty had the last laugh. Not only did he finish top of the Volvo Order of Merit last year but he leads again, having won the English and German Opens in successive weeks. When he tried to make it three in a row in the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre last week he missed the half-way cut and was able to take some much needed time off. 'I had a good weekend with my family at home,' he said. He left the Alps so quickly his clubs failed to catch up with him.

Montgomerie and Ballesteros teed off yesterday at 8am and 8.10 and over the opening holes conditions were perfect. Then the wind really got up but Montgomerie, as he has done for most of the season, sailed on serenely. He had seven birdies, one bogey, the blemish as a result of three putts at the first.

However, he had started at the 10th with a birdie four, hitting the green with driver, driver. There were three other occasions in the round where he played his first and second shots with the driver. The ninth, a par four of 466 yards, was an example but his approach shot left him 20 yards short of the flag, in rough and on a down slope. 'If I get this to within 10 feet of the hole it will be very good,' Monty said to his caddie. His shot hit the middle of the stick and dived into the cup, doing triple somersaults.

Officials, who fined Jose Manuel Carriles pounds 500 for slow play, also kept a watching brief on Ballesteros although they never had cause to get the stopwatch out. 'I didn't think about anything else except playing golf,' Ballesteros, who had plenty of other things to think about, said. He also started at the 10th and hit a three-wood approach three feet past the flag. He tapped it in for an eagle three and holed from 20 feet for a birdie at the next. 'It makes it easy when you start three under,' Ballesteros said.

Omitted from the World Match Play and with an axe to grind against IMG, the European Tour and the world in general, Ballesteros had a meeting with Ken Schofield, the executive director of the Tour. 'I didn't bring a pistol with me,' the Spaniard said.

Olazabal, like Ballesteros, a non- client of Mark McCormack's IMG, the company that runs the World Match Play Championship, thought Seve's omission from Wentworth unjust. Montgomerie, an IMG man who will be at Wentworth, said: 'Seve has had a very good run. All things come to an end. In a perfect world you'd get the world's top 12 players. But it isn't perfect.' He pointed out that Arnold Palmer would no longer compete in the US Open. Palmer is 64

(Photograph omitted)

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