Montgomerie's opening 70, two under par, was precisely the start he was looking for and his best first round at his eighth attempt. It was matched by Jose Maria Olazabal, another unhappy with his game prior to the event, and the pair were only one behind the early leaders, Davis Love, Brandel Chamblee and Scott McCarron.
Ernie Els would have joined them but for a six at the last. The South African and Love, second four years ago, were two who should have been highly fancied for the tournament but were hardly mentioned as David Duval and Tiger Woods stole the show.
They were at it again yesterday but for differing reasons. While Duval, trying to win his third tournament in successive weeks, went to the turn in 33 before dropping three shots in a row from the 12th as a thunderstorm delayed play for 95 minutes. Woods had to settle for a 72. This was no ordinary par round from the 1997 champion. It included a triple-bogey eight at the eighth and three birdies in a row from the 12th.
Woods had already made two birdies, two bogeys and only two pars by the time he hooked his drive at the par-five eighth. With two pine cones beside his ball, chipping out sideways was not an option and when he went for the gap in the trees, the ball rebounded into a flowerbed, unplayable. He should have contained the damage to a seven, but his pitch went over the green and he failed to get up and down.
"It was discouraging but the one place not to be on eight is left," Woods said. "I was playing well and knew I had 64 holes left to play. I've been there before."
Two years ago, Woods went to the turn in 40, came home in 30 and played the last 63 holes in 22 under. His fightback on the second nine was matched by his playing partner, Sergio Garcia. The British Amateur champion birdied the 10th, 11th and 17th in his 72. "I knew Sergio was a good player," Woods said. "He just needed to give himself some birdie chances and that's what he did."
In the past, Montgomerie has not felt comfortable on a course that does not play to his strength - being able to drive the ball on to the sort of pencil-line fairways that appear at the US Open. Although the rough is nowhere near enough to lose a caddie in, as at other venues, it is just enough, given the hard and fast greens, to put more of a premium on driving.
"Hitting the fairways means more than it did before," said Montgomerie, whose best result was eighth last year. "I am happy with a 70. It is exactly the start I wanted. I was more confident than in past years."
Montgomerie's only dropped shot came at the par-three sixth, where he took three putts from the lower tier, but he came home in 33. He birdied the 10th from 10 feet, two-putted the 13th for a birdie-four and then hit his tee shot at the short 16th to three feet. The only two fairways he missed were at the 17th and 18th, but even so, at the last his chip from beside the green lipped out for another birdie.
"This course is a great challenge," the Scot added. "The pin placements are very difficult. As soon as you relax, you can drop a shot. I only made one bad mistake, but any time you can say that here is good. The winner is going to be the one who makes the fewest mistakes and not the most birdies."
His only concern was with the leaderboard. "Of course, my name is not on it," Montgomerie remarked as he walked off the 18th green. "I'm the wrong nationality."
Seve Ballesteros, a day before a his 42nd birthday, shot a 78, two better than Nick Faldo, whose eight over score was equalled by 67-year-old Gay Brewer and was his second-worst in 57 rounds at Augusta. The only high spot came when he almost holed in one at the 16th and finished four inches away. "Just the same old story," Faldo said. "The game is close but not close enough."
Lee Westwood, trying to get over a flu bug, was four over with three to play while Darren Clarke finished with a 75. The Irishman strained his back on the range just before the round but his main problem was in taking 40 putts, plus a penalty when his ball moved on the third green.
But Ian Woosnam, despite continuing soreness from his back, was pleased with a 71, as was Sandy Lyle. Having lost his US Tour card, the 41-year- old Scot is only eligible to play in regular events on sponsors' invitations. However, he has a lifetime exemption to the Masters and a birdie at the last, with a five-iron to six feet although not from the fairway bunker, was a small reminder of his victory at Augusta in 1988.
"I have not played much this year, and none at all in the last three weeks, but I have tried to make use of that time by practising," Lyle said. "This is the first time in years I have had that much time off and it has done me a lot of good. I came out fresh and on the first tee I felt totally in control."
SECOND ROUND TEE-OFF TIMES (US unless stated, *denotes amateur, times BST)1315 G Player (SA), *T Immelman (SA), S Stricker. 1326 B Crenshaw, *T McKnight, L Roberts. 1337 S Ballesteros (Sp), H Sutton, B Mayfair. 1348 J Maggert, V Singh (Fiji), P Stewart. 1359 N Faldo (Eng), B Watts, J Durant. 1410 F Zoeller, M Ozaki (Japan), F Funk. 1421 A Palmer, *J Miller, W Wood. 1432 B Langer (Ger), M Calcavecchia, D Clarke (N Ire). 1443 P Mickelson, G Norman (Aus), J Parnevik (Swe). 1454 L Janzen, J Cook, F Lickliter. 1505 J Haas, B Andrade, T Bjorn (Den). 1516 M O'Meara, *H Keuhne, L Westwood (Eng). 1527 D Duval, N Price (Zim), B Tway. 1538 C Coody, B Jobe, P-U Johansson (Swe). 1549 M Brooks, S Cink, D Toms. 1600 P Azinger, J Furyk, G Day. 1611 B Casper, G Brewer, D Ford. 1622 S Pate, S Hoch, B Estes. 1633 J Daly, G Hjertstedt (Swe), O Browne. 1644 S Lyle (Sco), C Pavin, S Verplank. 1655 C Stadler, C Parry (Aus), R Mediate. 1706 R Floyd, C Montgomerie (Sco), S Jones. 1717 JM Olazabal (Sp), B Glasson, B Chamblee. 1728 E Els (SA), D Love, T Lehman. 1739 J Leonard, S Maruyama (Japan), J Huston. 1750 F Couples, S Elkington (Aus), S McCarron. 1801 B Faxon, JP Hayes, T Dodds (Nam). 1812 T Watson, *M Kuchar, S Appleby (Aus). 1823 I Woosnam (Wal), P Sjoland (Swe), A Magee. 1834 T Woods, *S Garcia (Sp), T Herron. 1845 L Mize, C Franco (Par), J Sluman. 1856 T Aaron, M A Jimenez (Sp), C Perry.
TV: BBC2: 2100-2230; BBC1: 2230-2330.
FIRST-ROUND SCORES FROM AUGUSTA
US unless stated, par 72
B Chamblee, D Love, S McCarron
C Montgomerie (GB), J M Olazabal (Sp), J Leonard, A Magee, J Sluman
S Pate, B Estes, S Lyle (GB), E Els (SA), I Woosnam (GB), M Ozaki (Japan)
C Stadler, J Daly, B Glasson, T Woods, *S Garcia (Sp), S Elkington (Aus), C Franco (Par), V Singh (Fiji), M A Jimenez (Sp), *T Immelman (SA), F Zoeller.
R Mediate, T Lehman, S Appleby (Aus), P Stewart, *T McKnight, C Perry, B Watts
O Browne, G Hjertstedt (Swe), R Floyd, B Faxon, F Couples, T Watson, J Huston, B Crenshaw
S Hoch, C Pavin, C Parry (Aus), T Herron, S Stricker, M Calcavecchia, D Clarke (GB)
J P Hayes, P Sjoland (Swe), L Mize, L Roberts, F Funk, B Langer (Ger)
S Jones, *M Kuchar, T Aaron
S Verplank, T Dodds (Nam), S Ballesteros (Sp), J Maggert, B Mayfair
H Sutton, G Player (SA), W Wood
G Brewer, N Faldo (GB)
(Bad light stopped play)