Golf: Monty and Els paired at Medinah

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COLIN MONTGOMERIE goes straight from his nine-shot victory in Sweden on Sunday into another head-to-head confrontation with South Africa's Ernie Els this week. They have been paired for the opening two rounds of the final major championship of the year - the USPGA starting at Medinah, near Chicago, on Thursday.

Montgomerie, now a four-times winner in Europe this season but still seeking his first major, has twice finished second to Els at the US Open - in 1994 at Oakmont, Pittsburgh, and 1997 at Congressional, Washington.

The other member of the threeball is the 1997 Open champion, Justin Leonard, who lost the play-off at Carnoustie last month. The trio are among the last to tee off in the opening round, going out at 1.07pm local time - 7.07pm in Britain.

Immediately ahead of them will be the winners of the first three majors this season. It has become a tradition of the PGA that the trio are grouped together, and so Montgomerie's fellow Scot Paul Lawrie plays with the Masters champion, Jose Maria Olazabal, and the US Open champion, Payne Stewart.

Lee Westwood, who has won on his last two starts in the Netherlands and Dublin, partners Paraguay's Carlos Franco, a double winner on the US Tour this year, and Chris Perry of America.

Darren Clarke plays with Jean van de Velde of France, who lost a three- shot lead on the final hole at Carnoustie, and Stewart Cink of America. Both Westwood and Clarke have mid-morning starts, but there are early tee-off times for Ian Woosnam (7.25am) and Nick Faldo (7.52am).

Faldo missed a play-off for the US Open by a single shot at Medinah in 1990, and the course has now been lengthened to 7,401 yards - the second longest ever used for a major and the longest at sea level.

Nine years ago Faldo had already won the Masters, and he was to go on to take the Open at St Andrews as well. These days it is a different story - Faldo has missed the halfway cut in the first three majors of 1999 and on current form faces the prospect missing all four for the first time in a season.

Also on the line is Faldo's Ryder Cup chance - the European team is decided after next week's BMW International in Munich. A total of 23 Europeans are in the 150-strong USPGA field, including the Ryder Cup captain, Mark James, who still has a good chance of qualifying for the team.

Like James, his United States counterpart, Ben Crenshaw, will be studying form. A total of 29 Americans are in contention for the 10 automatic spots, with only five certain of their places. That impressive quintet consists of David Duval, Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart, Davis Love and Mark O'Meara.

Hal Sutton and Leonard are short odds to join them, but Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Jeff Maggert are under pressure in eighth, ninth and 10th places.

Tom Lehman, the Open champion at Royal Lytham three years ago, is in 11th position. He led the Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Michigan, by four strokes going into Sunday's final round, but he shot 71 to allow Tom Pernice to overtake him to win by a shot.