Golf: Montgomerie shapes up

For a man who has already won $1m (pounds 600,000) in 1998, Colin Montgomerie's personal highlight of the year so far is losing 10 pounds of the fleshy variety. The Scot's victory in the Andersen Consulting World Championship has been consigned to the history books. "It was classed as part of 1997 for money and rankings, so it doesn't feel like I've done anything this year yet," Montgomerie said.

Resembling more a Cheshire cat than a fat one, Montgomerie is in confident mood as he begins his season proper tomorrow in the Dubai Desert Classic. Until Sunday, he had not hit a shot with his new clubs but has instead spent the last six weeks in the gym.

In terms of success, Monty is as hungry as ever. "There is one reason why I have won the Order of Merit for five years in a row and it is because I am as ambitious as I am," he said.

Two years ago, Montgomerie took a similar break and opened his account with a victory here on the Emirates course. A similar start now would be timely - while the European Tour has been swinging through Asia, Australia and South Africa, Ernie Els has established a pounds 236,020 lead over Scot at the top of the money list.

Els and Greg Norman head what is another star-studded field for the golf in the Gulf. But despite Kofi Annan already producing a significant result in the region this week, the American Tom Lehman withdrew at the last minute, something Montgomerie never considered.

"We are over 850 miles from Baghdad," he said. "If there was something on in the south of France, you wouldn't move house to the north of Scotland, would you? This is as safe a place as you'd ever want to be."