Golf: Montgomerie's magic finale: Lane denied win after being three strokes ahead with three holes to play

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COLIN MONTGOMERIE, with three birdies in the last four holes and blood on his hands, pipped Barry Lane to win the Murphy's English Open yesterday. Lane was three strokes in front of the Scotsman when he had only three holes to play, but made a crucial error at the long 17th.

It was a remarkable reversal of fortunes and Montgomerie, who finished first in the Volvo Order of Merit last season, won pounds 100,000 here to lead again, ahead of Jose- Maria Olazabal and a few quid short of pounds 400,000.

What was extraordinary about the finale to the English Open is that both Montgomerie and Lane went the distance in the US PGA Championship, in Tulsa last week. After that, Montgomerie, who had a share of the lead following the first round in Oklahoma, said that mentally and tactically he was still a rookie when it came to the majors. As far as the European Tour is concerned, he's a major contender, the full Monty. This was his sixth victory, his first in Britain and in the last three years he has been a runner-up nine times. 'I didn't fancy a play-off,' Montgomerie said. He has been in three and has lost the lot, including the US Open, at Oakmont in June.

There were signs, especially when he missed a short putt at the 12th, of Montgomerie's temperament unravelling. The thumb and forefinger of his right hand were bleeding. 'I couldn't feel the putter,' he said. He tore off an Elastoplast and tossed it away and then threw his ball into the lake.

Montgomerie, playing last with Des Smyth, frequently looked at the leaderboard - 'I still can't believe anyone doesn't look' - which told him that Lane, playing immediately in front of him, had got to 14 under and was the clear leader. However, Montgomerie finished 2, 4, 4, 2; Lane 2, 4, 6, 3. What did for the Englishman was the 17th, a par five of 511 yards. He hit a big drive down the left side and had 200 yards to the flag. Lane hit a bizarre seven-iron which flew about 215 yards and his ball bounced through the back of the green. Superman would have trouble hitting a seven-iron that far. 'It was ridiculous,' Lane said. 'I never thought of hitting an eight-iron.'

Faced with a 40-foot chip, he fluffed it to about half that distance, chipped again and missed a putt from 12 feet to record a six. 'I was trying to make four,' Lane said.

In contrast, Montgomerie, who had 202 yards to the 17th green, hit a four-iron and had two putts for a birdie four. At the last, a par three, Lane holed a gutsy eight foot-putt to save par. With a 68, Lane was on 13 under. Montgomerie, standing on the 18th tee, knew he had to get a two to win and he hit a brilliant four-iron eight feet past the flag and rolled in the putt. 'I knew Monty had to do something really special to beat me,' Lane said. 'And he did. His finish was phenomenal.'

Montgomerie, who has been helped here this week by his Ilkley coach, Bill Ferguson, began the day at 11 under par, two strokes behind Smyth and two in front of Lane. Both Lane and Montgomerie birdied the second and third holes but Monty's drive at the seventh landed behind a bush and he took a six there. He went to the turn in 35, Smyth in 36, Lane in 33. The 41- year-old Smyth had 13 successive pars before dropping shots at the 14th, 16th and 18th. 'My swing just wasn't there,' the Irishman said. 'I always seemed to be in the wrong place.' He finished joint fourth and that cost him a place in Ireland's team for the Dunhill Cup at St Andrews in October.

Earlier, Gordon Brand Jnr and Retief Goosen demonstrated what was possible over the back nine. Brand Jnr, who will be a member of Scotland's team in the Dunhill Cup, came home in 30 with four birdies and an eagle while Goosen had five birdies in a row from the 14th. He finished third at 12 under, a stroke in front of Brand Jnr. But then, as the leaders would tell you, it's easier when you are not in contention.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 31

(Photograph omitted)