Golf: Monty goes to work on greens

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The Independent Online
Afraid that he is on the road to nowhere, Colin Montgomerie has taken the A10 to Ware. The Scot heads the field in the Alamo English Open at Hanbury Manor today, along with Jose Maria Olazabal, who is making his first appearance in Britain since the 1995 Open at St Andrews.

While 10 years ago The Oxfordshire, venue for last week's Benson and Hedges, was farmland, Hanbury Manor was a convent for the Faithful Companions of Jesus. The estate provides a historic setting which can be traced back to the Domesday Book.

Monty's performance on the greens of late has been less than saintly, but his day of doom came last Sunday when he shot a last round 81 in the company of the Ryder Cup captain, Seve Ballesteros. At the second hole, Montgomerie took five putts. The Spaniard said nothing until Montgomerie holed from 40 feet at the next. "Ah, four less than the last time," Seve remarked.

"If I'm not playing on the first morning at Valderrama we'll know why," reflected Montgomerie. On Tuesday he spent seven hours practising at The Buckinghamshire club with his coach, Denis Pugh. Last night he headed to the putting green to resume a practice routine from his days at Houston Baptist College of holing a hundred two-footers before dinner.

"It's over the last few that the pressure tells. It's like being in the nervous nineties in cricket. If you miss at 98 or 99, you feel rotten about it. I will probably do this every day until the US Open," Montgomerie said.

This is an important part of the year for the European No 1. He is lagging behind Olazabal, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam on the money list and faces the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth next week and the US Open at Congressional next month. "I feel the PGA is a tournament I should have won by now and I owe it to myself to try and win the US Open," he said.

"But we are nearly in June and I've only had three top-10s. That's no use. The problem has been my chipping and putting. I've been failing on both counts. That puts pressure on me to hit my irons close and that produces bad shots. I've improved for 10 years as a pro and I can't afford to let it slip now."

In contrast to Montgomerie, Tiger Woods has had no problem on the greens, or anywhere else on the course, and the 21-year-old is eager to continue his global domination in the Byron Nelson Classic which starts today in Irving, Texas.

Woods will play his first competitive round since his record-breaking US Masters victory at Augusta a month ago and if his practice round on Tuesday is anything to go by, the rest of the field had better be prepared to play for second place again. Woods shot an unofficial 64 and announced he was raring to go after his four-week break.

"I'm hitting the ball well. I'm surprised, I'm hitting it so well," Woods said. "I expect to win this week. I expect to win every tournament I play."

Woods is also looking forward to next week's Colonial tournament in Fort Worth, where he will come face to face with Fuzzy Zoeller. The 1979 Masters champion touched off a firestorm of controversy in Augusta when he said he hoped Woods wouldn't serve "fried chicken and collard greens," at next year's Masters champions dinner.

"I'd like to ask him what exactly he meant," Woods said. "I want to have a heart to heart talk with him and find out what he was thinking."