Golf: Montgomerie plots jaunty desert push: Couples bemoans lost wages in Las Vegas and Scotland's champion attributes profits to psychologist as Ballesteros tries slump solution

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THEY sat, in their finest summer collections, on a comfortable sofa in an air-conditioned tent in the middle of the desert and revealed how they were going to strike it rich. Greg Norman may spend two and a half hours every day working out with his personal fitness adviser, but this was not the route to the top for Colin Montgomerie.

'I'd rather spend that time with the wife and family than in the gym,' Big Monty said. 'I may be overweight but I'm fit and I've got good stamina.'

In any case Monty, the 16st winner of the European Order of Merit last season, has a more subtle influence at work for his desert campaign. The principal criticism of the Scotsman has been that when the going has got rough the rowing, with anybody unfortunate enough to be in his immediate vicinty, would start and teddy would come hurtling out of the pram.

According to the new, laugh-a- minute Monty, this image is a mirage. For he is now having regular consultations with Hugh Mantel, a lecturer in psychology at the John Moores University in Liverpool and an Olympic coach. This is the man who helped Richard Fox to a canoeing gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

'I don't think I'd have won the Order of Merit without his help,' Montgomerie said. 'He puts me in the right frame of mind and enhances what I've already got. I'm much more confident. It comes down to me at the end of the day.' No longer, it seems, can it be said of Big Monty that he is up the creek without a paddle.

Norman, Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer are making their debuts at the Emirates course here, an exotic watering hole in January for the European Tour. Couples, a King Edward amongst couch potatoes, says that Dubai reminds him of Las Vegas so the American should feel at home here. Couples warmed up for the new year with a gambling binge in Las Vegas, another notable oasis in the desert.

Couples went to see Barbra Streisand there and spent the rest of the time losing money. His gambling on the outcome of American ball games was particularly unfruitful. 'I was batting nought for five,' he said, using a baseball analogy.

His tastes are well catered for in Dubai. George Benson, the American soul singer, is giving a concert at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club tonight while tomorrow evening there is horse racing at the Golf and Racing Club at Nad Al Shiba, the latest development in the United Arab Emirates' grand plan to develop Dubai, the second largest of the seven Emirates, as the 'sports capital of the Middle East'. A sporting Mecca.

Langer, meanwhile, is visiting the well frequented by, among others, Nick Faldo. The German is changing his swing with the assistance of David Leadbetter.

'I'm just trying to hit it a little straighter and be more consistent,' Langer said. 'Gradually you will see a significant difference in the swing. I will not do what Nick did and spend two years changing everything. It is more dangerous to change totally. If I take two steps forward and one back that wouldn't be too bad. I expect a lot of me this year.'

The Desert Classic is the third tournament of the European Tour and the first two have been won by Swedes, Mats Lanner taking the Madeira Open and Anders Forsbrand the Moroccan Open. On both occasions the Yorkshireman Howard Clark was beaten into second place.

Ian Woosnam is playing this weekend in the Vines Classic in Perth on one of Australia's toughest courses. He has been working with the coach David Leadbetter in an attempt to improve his swing.

----------------------------------------------------------------- DUBAI CARD OF THE COURSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 433 4 10th 549 5 2nd 351 4 11th 169 3 3rd 530 5 12th 467 4 4th 184 3 13th 550 5 5th 435 4 14th 434 4 6th 450 4 15th 177 3 7th 184 3 16th 392 4 8th 463 4 17th 351 4 9th 434 4 18th 547 5 Out: 3,464 35 In: 3,636 37 Total: 7,100 72 -----------------------------------------------------------------