Golf: Montgomerie's major mood: Scot approaches the Bay Hill Classic with confidence

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The Independent Online
WEDNESDAYS at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Classic have an almost major feel about them, because there is no pro-am, just most of the world's best golfers practising together in groups both serious and convivial. On the eve of the tournament, Tiger Woods, the 18-year-old amateur who had his first encounter and lesson with an impressed David Leadbetter on the range on Tuesday, was off with his hero, Tom Watson.

Woods, six feet tall, half-Thai and everyone's choice as the future of golf, was wide-eyed as Watson, straight-faced, described the practice-round ground rules. Woods consoled himself with the thought that if things looked tight, he could just say: 'Hey, that little putt looks a lot like the ones you three-putted at Pebble Beach last month.'

Colin Montgomerie took the lead in outward confidence in the foursome that also included Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Peter Baker. Montgomerie, whose last tournament comprised an embarrassing two rounds in the Hong Kong Open, is here to win.

'This is more than a warm-up for the Masters, this is a big tournament. All the other guys - Woosie, Faldo, Langer, Sandy, Seve, Olazabal - have won in America, and I want to move up to that next level. I know now that I'm good enough to do it. It's been building over the last couple of years.'

The Masters, though, is never very deeply buried in Montgomerie's consciousness. This will be his third appearance at Augusta, and he swears the place will no longer cow him. 'It's as if you make a bogey just because you shouldn't be under par at Augusta. I've been showing the tournament too much respect. This year I'm going to try to treat it as much like any other tournament as I possibly can.' A large part of his confidence springs from the addition of a draw to his driver, a necessary skill at Augusta, but one he has only recently made reliable.

Montgomerie will have to beat an impressive field this week, the best of the year so far. It encompasses the whole spectrum of world golf, from Arnold Palmer to Greg Norman to Tiger Woods. Among the few missing this week are Nick Faldo, who returned home because two of his children have birthdays, and the Americans Fred Couples, Paul Azinger and Phil Mickelson, who are all still on the disabled list.