Golf: Montgomerie's hot pursuit

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The Independent Online
ENOUGH of the negative vibes and the whiff of mutiny against the bounty. Jamaica radio was broadcasting Christmas carols, the sky was as turquoise as the Caribbean lapping around the fringes of the Tryall course and today the jam in Jamaica will be for everybody. The Johnnie Walker World Championship has dollars 2.7m in prize money with the winner taking home dollars 550,000, or pounds 369,127.52. There are only 28 players in this select field and the man who finishes last wins dollars 50,000 ( pounds 33,557.05).

Judging by the way he's playing, that man could be Peter Baker. Yesterday, the fabulous Baker boy went round in 79 and after scores of 74 and 78 he stood at a hopeless 18 over par on 231, a speck on the horizon of the leaders, Larry Mize and Colin Montgomerie. 'I played crap,' Baker said, which was an accurate, if succinct, description of his performance. A couple of his drives did not travel further than 50 yards. Where there was a bunker, a tree or a creek he found it. 'Once you're out of a tournament like this it's difficult to keep it going,' Baker admitted. 'It's hard to concentrate.'

There has been sufficient criticism of this championship to prompt Lord Macfarlane, chairman of United Distillers (Johnnie Walker is one of its brands) to remark that the exposure of the event, taken to mean newspaper coverage, was no better than 'reasonable'. With everything else, the course, the weather and so on, he was 'delighted'. The most contentious point was that the World Championship failed to lure three of the season's leading players: Greg Norman; Nick Price; and Payne Stewart.

Yesterday, Macfarlane had a meeting here with Mark McCormack, whose IMG runs the tournament, but we will not know until the new year whether the championship will survive to its fourth birthday. The huge investment will be measured, quid pro quo, against how many bottles of Johnnie Walker are sold throughout the world over Christmas.

Montgomerie, who led the European Order of Merit this year, closed the gap on Mize with a birdie and an eagle on the 16th and 17th. Big Monty finished with a 68 and at nine under par appears to be the only player with a realistic chance of catching Mize. The American shot 68 to take a three-stroke lead into today's final round.

However, Big Monty, who will partner Mize today, fancies his chances. 'Nothing is cut and dried,' Montgomerie said. 'You can come a cropper at any hole. There is no pressure on me - I'm enjoying it. I can afford to go for it a wee bit more than Mize can.'

Montgomerie went in pursuit of Mize while Nick Faldo, the defending champion, was treading water. Faldo has gremlins in his swing and one of them produced a pull at the picturesque par-three 15th hole, where his ball sailed serenely left into the sea. He had a double-bogey five but birdied the next two for a 69. 'I'm really out of it,' Faldo said. 'I did not go forward as I intended but I played a lot better.'

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