Golf: Montgomerie sets his mind to task ahead

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In teeing off early yesterday morning, Colin Montgomerie had two advantages over his Order of Merit rival Ian Woosnam. Montgomerie had first use of the Collingtree Park greens that are anything but, completing his first round in the One 2 One British Masters without interruption.

Woosnam was twice held up by thunderstorms and will have to resume along with half the field at 7.30 this morning. The accompanying rain left the greens losing their dye.

"They obviously don't look impressive," Montgomerie said of the browns, "but they putt better and were truer than they appear." The Scot returned a four-under-par 68, with only South Africa's Gavin Levenson better placed on 66, as is only to be expected after day one of the qualification period for the 1997 European Ryder Cup team.

This season's money-list title is of more importance to the big Scot and the wee Welshman, and Montgomerie has seen off the challenge of Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Sam Torrance in the last three years, and a year ago in spite of Torrance winning this title.

But Woosnam has gained an advantage over the others by following the advice that if you cannot beat Montgomerie, then use his coach. Bill Ferguson has guided Woosnam to four wins this year and a pounds 51,000 lead on the Order of Merit over Montgomerie, whose form has dipped. "It had to happen that Bill would work with other people," Montgomerie said. "I'm surprised it did not happen earlier."

Montgomerie has been moonlighting with the putting expert Harold Swash on the practice green, but denies a split with Ferguson. "I am not particularly practising this week, my mind is elsewhere," he said. His father, James, suffered a heart attack last week and is in hospital in Glasgow after a triple-bypass operation. Montgomerie picked up a club for the first time in two weeks on Monday, while Levenson has not played a tournament since June, nor earned a cheque since March. He was a reserve for the event until Monday evening, when Mark McNulty withdrew, and only arrived from Johannesburg on Tuesday morning.

After missing a six-footer at the first, Levenson's caddie told him: "Listen, you are going to miss them today. It doesn't make any difference." Eight birdies followed.

Torrance, with a crew-cut and a goatee beard after a two-week holiday in Jamaica, broke the trend of those having been away from the game returning in style and was five over with two to go when play was abandoned because of flooded greens. Woosnam, at the same point, was three under after 14 holes, but Per Haugsrud, of Norway, was disqualified for failing to resume his round after the first break.

Scores, Digest, page 23