Golf: Monty left hapless in Seattle

US PGA: Europe's No 1 and Woods suffer major setbacks while Stricker and Singh head for the heights
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The Independent Online
IN THEIR own ways, Colin Montgomerie and Tiger Woods set out at Sahalee in the third round of the 80th US PGA Championship with the same intention. Both men, one a 35-year-old without a major to his name and the other with a record-breaking performance that appears to have become a millstone for someone aged 22, wanted to give themselves a chance to lift up the Wanamaker Trophy this evening.

Woods has the better opportunity, despite never rediscovering the touch of his opening 66. He, at least, can still make a move. Montgomerie played his way out of a championship he had previously fought so hard to contend in with a disastrous 77.

Montgomerie, absent from a major leaderboard since last year's US Open, was out in the last pairing yesterday with Vijay Singh, while Woods, the first-round leader, had lost his advantage. Woods complained of not being able to "feel my swing" on Friday, when he was six shots worse than the day before. His swing was still awry yesterday but despite going to the turn in one over, Tiger scrambled manfully and birdied the 15th for a level-par 70. Now he needs a Sunday similar to his closing effort at Royal Birkdale.

Woods has been talking about being patient, hitting fairways and greens, and, unbelievably, letting "the birdies fall where they may". It is hardly the formula which took him to that astonishing Masters victory last year and though probably necessary on this tight course, it does not come naturally to the world No 1.

His driver is still in the bag but Woods has declined to use it. Montgomerie replaced his with a five-wood, but whatever he took out of the bag yesterday hardly mattered. Having birdied the par-five second, a poor nine-iron approach into a bunker at the third meant he gave the shot back before also bogeying the sixth.

He then took a double bogey at the eighth when his second shot from the rough hit a tree and further dropped shots followed at the 10th, 14th and 15th. Monty almost holed his approach at the next but the day was all too reminiscent of the third round at Augusta last year when, in the final group again, Montgomerie was annihilated by Woods. This time the swing with Singh was 10 strokes as the Fijian birdied four holes on the back nine to take the lead with Steve Stricker at seven under, four ahead of the field.

Stricker was fourth on the US money list in 1996 but slumped to 130th last season. He opened a three-shot advantage on the front nine due to birdies at the second, third and eighth.

But in prime charging position are the defending champion Davis Love, Steve Elkington, the 1995 winner, and the arch-lurker himself, Mrk O'Meara, still hanging around in an attempt to emulate Ben Hogan's three-major season of 1953.

A little overnight rain softened the course for the early starters and Greg Kraft broke the course record, set by Woods on Thursday and equalled by Singh on Friday, with a 65. Kraft's previous claim to fame was losing his putter during the 1994 Open at Turnberry and then shooting a 66 in the third round when he got it back.

Ian Woosnam went to the turn in 31 but dropped back on the second nine to score a 67, as did Fred Couples, who has announced the date of his marriage to Thais Bren as 12 September, and Bob Tway. Woosnam made the cut at five over only by holing from 20 feet at the last.

"I thought I had missed it by then," he said. "I was annoyed with the way I played but I settled down later and did some putting for an hour in my hotel room."

Woosnam missed from four feet at the first for a birdie but more than made up for that when he hit a one-iron to 20 feet at the next and holed that for an eagle. Birdies followed at the fifth, sixth and 12th but he missed the greens at the 16th and 18th. "I played better today and if a few more putts had gone in it could have been a low one."

That was also Nick Faldo's assessment despite a score of 72. "I holed some good putts for par but left the birdie putts in the jaws," he said. Whatever happens today, Faldo may look back on this tournament as a watershed after Ben Crenshaw, the American Ryder Cup captain, spotted his putting flaw on Thursday.

"Eureka," Faldo said. "I think this is a major step forward for me." Faldo's constant fiddling at address has been a trademark of his, even in the successful times, but he did not realise how much he was re-gripping the putter just before striking the ball. "It had obviously got to the point where it causes a fault. It is very difficult to change your characteristics so I am chuffed with the way it has worked so far. At last, I feel I have something constructive to work on. Before, I was practising bad putts. No two putts were the same. Now I can hit the same stroke, the same putt, time after time."

But more than the technicalities, the boost to Faldo's psyche is the most important aspect, especially at a time when he is about to return to the European tour, playing between two and five events, for the start of the Ryder Cup qualifying next month. "I really feel like I have hit something," he added. "If I can unchain myself from the putting thing, it's going to help the whole game. Now I have found the thing that has been holding back my game this could be a great turnaround."