Golf: Montgomerie swoops with late eagle

PGA Championship: Goosen surrenders share of lead to Europe's No 1 while Els and Clarke produce poor rounds

IN CONTRAST to many courses in America, where Colin Montgomerie appears a small fish in a big pond and struggles to dominate to anything like the extent he does in Europe, water hazards are not a feature of the West Course here, except for a small pond in front of the eighth green.

The big-fish, small-pond factor is one explanation for Montgomerie's relative lack of success on the world stage compared with his frequent victories at home. So on a day when a heavy rain burst as the leaders played the opening holes seemed to set the tone for a dank and cold third round of the Volvo PGA Championship, it was no surprise that the major forward thrust, as opposed to the several backwards retreats, had come from Europe's No 1.

"I love winning," Monty said, as if we needed reminding. "I love the challenge of winning and I have a great drive to win. It's a great winning."

Montgomerie, who won the PGA title for the first time a year ago, enters today's final round tied for the lead with South Africa's Retief Goosen at 10 under par. Two shots behind are Bernhard Langer and Mark McNulty but what became of Darren Clarke and Ernie Els, the top two overnight, was a mystery. The plain statistics were that Els had a 74 to drop back to seven under and Clarke a 77 to be five behind the lead.

A 67 from Montgomerie matched the best of the day, as did McNulty. The veteran Zimbabwean, credited a "massive bird's dropping" landing on the shoulder of his caddie on the eighth tee for the seven birdies that followed. Langer scored a 70, but survived an interrogation by the chief referee, John Paramor, after a TV viewer reported a possible rules violation.

On a practice swing for his second shot at the ninth, Langer snapped a twig. The video evidence was viewed by the three big wigs of Paramor, David Garland, the tournament director, and David Rickman, the rules secretary of the Royal and Ancient. "There is certainly a large degree of doubt whether the small branch that was broken off was in the area of his intended swing," Paramor said. "In light of that, there will be no penalty applied under rule 13-2."

With the course now playing longer and tougher than for the first two rounds, Montgomerie was the only player in the field of 66 not to drop a shot. "Clean sheets", as the Scot calls them, is something Monty prides himself on more than Peter Shilton ever did. "It's not the birdies you make but the bogeys you don't," he said.

It certainly was not the birdies he made yesterday, the only one coming at the par-five fourth, but the eagles. At both the 12th and the 18th, Monty hit four-iron approach shots to 12 feet and holed the putts. The shot into the last looked on line for an albatross until it just veered off at the last moment. Since Monty had also eagled the last on Saturday, he had collected three eagles in 19 holes.

"The one on Saturday was key for me," Montgomerie said. "I was treading water until then and that got me going. There is always a shot that changes tournaments and that was the one for me. To do it again today means I am in contention tomorrow and that's where I wanted to be."

But between the eagles came the saving of pars at the 13th and 14th. "That was also important," he added. "It was important that everybody else could see that I hadn't dropped a shot."

That Montgomerie's belief that he has a psychological hold over the rest of the field is probably more relevant than whether he actually has or not. "I don't know what it means but as soon as I got to 10 under, Goosen came back to 10 under," he reasoned.

Indeed, Goosen, who had held a four-stroke lead for much of the day, had not dropped a shot until he bogeyed the 15th and 16th, and then failed to birdie either the 17th or 18th. "It was a poor finish but I'm looking forward to tomorrow," he said.

The battle will be one between the current leader of the order of merit and the six-time winner. Goosen has won three times in Europe but the one occasion he met up with Montgomerie in the final group of a final round, at the European Grand Prix in 1997, the Scot won by five.

Only one player can disturb Montgomerie's equilibrium - and unfortunately the effect is usually to scare the living daylights out of him. "He's got a very short name," Monty said. Messrs Roe and Orr need not apply. "Any time you can beat Ernie Els, you have a very good chance of winning." Such was the case a year ago but the South African will be hoping yesterday was his one bad round of the week. "I was braindead from the fairways and putted terribly," Els said.

THIRD-ROUND SCORES

(GB or Irl unless stated; par 72):

206 C Montgomerie 69 70 67; R Goosen (SA) 67 69 70.

208 M McNulty (Zim) 71 70 67; B Langer (Ger) 65 73 70.

209 E Romero (Arg) 71 71 67; M Gronberg (Swe) 69 73 67; S Leaney (Aus) 73 67 69; P Lonard (Aus) 69 70 70; R Karlsson (Swe) 70 68 71; P Eales 68 70 71; M James 67 70 72; E Els (SA) 68 67 74.

210 I Garbutt 74 68 68; D Carter 71 70 69; J M Olazabal (Sp) 68 70 72; M Campbell (NZ) 68 70 72; D Robertson 68 69 73.

211 S Lyle 70 70 71; J Parnevik (Swe) 70 69 72; D Clarke 67 67 77.

212 R Wessels (Rsa) 71 73 68; J Haeggman (Swe) 71 72 69; J Van de Velde (Fra) 67 75 70; S Allan (Aus) 72 69 71; J Singh (India) 72 69 71.

213 W Bennett 70 74 69; S Struver (Ger) 75 69 69; T Levet (Fr) 71 71 71; J Sandelin (Swe) 70 72 71; D Smyth 69 72 72; M Roe 70 70 73; A Oldcorn 72 68 73; S Torrance 70 68 75.

214 J Rivero (Sp) 67 76 71; P Price 73 69 72; C Rocca (It) 71 71 72; P Broadhurst 73 69 72; P Fulke (Swe) 73 68 73; G Orr 71 70 73; G Turner (NZ) 73 67 74.

215 S Garcia (Sp) 72 73 70; I Woosnam 72 73 70; D Howell 72 72 71; M Long (NZ) 71 73 71; B Lane 70 74 71; P Curry 70 74 71; P Linhart (Sp) 67 76 72; D Gilford 70 70 75.

216 P Harrington 74 70 72; R Muntz (Neth) 71 72 73.

217 C Hainline (US) 73 72 72; P Sjoland (Swe) 73 71 73; F Cea (Sp) 72 73 72; I Garrido (Sp) 74 70 73; D Cooper 67 76 74; R Russell 71 72 74; L Westwood 69 73 75; S Luna (Sp) 71 71 75; P Lawrie 70 71 76.

218 A Coltart 72 73 73; Zhang Lian-wei (China) 74 71 73.

219 N Faldo 74 71 74; P Walton 73 72 74; J Bickerton 73 72 74.

220 M A Jimenez (Sp) 73 72 75.

222 P Nyman (Swe) 74 70 78.

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