Golf: Monty's head on another block

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The Independent Online
COLIN MONTGOMERIE has often remarked that there is only one thing worse than constantly being mentioned as a player who is expected to win a major championship - and that is not being expected to win a major. At least that comes without the constant scrutiny that dogs not only Montgomerie but Phil Mickelson, too.

Both saw any hope that they might change their status in the game before leaving Sahalee disappear in the third round of the 80th USPGA Championship yesterday. Mickelson, starting the day at level par, shot a 78. Montgomerie, who was one behind the half-way leader, Vijay Singh, shot a 77 to fall to four over par. The Scot went into yesterday's final round 11 strokes behind Singh and Steve Stricker.

He fell a further shot behind after finding a green-side bunker at the first. When he missed his par-saving putt from eight feet, the Montgomerie visage crumpled in resignation. Further bogeys did not improve the mood. He found the trees off the tee at the third and was over the green at the fourth, but got up and down from a bunker for par at the sixth. Another drop shot at the eighth hole put Montgomerie out in 39, four over par, before he finally got into his stride by birdieing the 10th and the par- five 11th.

A birdie at the second on Saturday had actually put Montgomerie into the lead. But his championship then started to unravel. The erratic nature of his long game, overcome by a sparky putter on the first two days, began to show up the European No 1 on a course with no room for error.

This time his putter could not save him either. Montgomerie suffered double-bogeys at the eighth and 18th in contrast to Tiger Woods. The world No 1 looked to be having a stinker early in his round but forged a level- par 70 to leave himself lurking in the pack chasing the leaders, which also included the defending champion, Davis Love, the 1995 winner, Steve Elkington, and the Masters and Open champion, Mark O'Meara.

Montgomerie thought long and hard after missing the cut at the Open. "I'm not there on Saturdays enough," he said after embarking on extensive preparations for Sahalee. He decided to see a putting specialist and to work harder on the range.

All season, Montgomerie has convinced himself that his putting has not been up to the mark. Seeing Dave Pelz, who also worked with Ian Woosnam in Seattle, gave him a more positive attitude on the greens.

But what Montgomerie has chosen to ignore is that he may be missing more putts because his birdie chances are further from the hole and he has needed to get up and down more often. His long game has not been as consistent as in the past. The simple action that had never been tampered with meant he hit every shot straight with the hint of a fade.

Now, however, he is either hooking the ball or blocking it right. This may be a consequence of work a couple of years ago with his old teacher, Bill Ferguson. At that point they tried to give Montgomerie the option of drawing the ball to give him a better chance at Augusta. Ironically, his best finish at a major this season came when he was eighth at the Masters.

Ferguson, who taught the young Montgomerie to play at Ilkley Golf Club in Yorkshire, was fired at the end of 1996. Last year Denis Pugh was his advisor, but the Scot ended the relationship because he was unhappy about getting too technical.

Pugh would probably agree his work was only half finished. He has suggested he made Montgomerie's best better but his worst worse, and that there is a small flaw in his game that most weeks on the regular tour is not a problem but which is exposed at times of great pressure.

Whatever the reasons for the split between Montgomerie and Ferguson - and that Woosnam started to use the same coach may have been one of them - he is the man to sort out the Scot's swing. After a wretched opening session at Valderrama in last year's Ryder Cup, Ferguson was called in for emergency aid and Monty never looked back.

Montgomerie, 35, has now played in 30 majors, exactly half as many as the late-blossoming O'Meara. Mickelson, seven years younger, has played only four fewer majors but not lived up to his early reputation. Like Montgomerie, he is a prolific winning of tour events but his best showing in a major is third.

"As things mount," the former Open champion Johnny Miller said, "it is like a horse going round the track and every time you don't win, you have to add another brick to the saddle. You hate to see guys labelled and have to deal with it. It's getting brutal now."

Nick Faldo added: "Now a good player really has a monkey on his back to get off. Before, if you were a good player, it was like, `Good luck to you, maybe you'll win one'. Now the finger is pointed."

COMPLETE THIRD-ROUND SCORES

203

S Stricker 69 68 66

V Singh (Fiji) 70 66 67

207

B Mayfair 73 67 67

D Love 70 68 69

SElkington (Aus) 69 69 69

208

M O'Meara 69 70 69

S Kendall 72 68 68

F Lickliter 68 71 69

T Woods 66 72 70

209

R Allenby (Aus) 72 68 69

J Cook 71 68 70

J Huston 70 71 68

G Kraft 71 73 65

S Gump 68 69 72

210

R Cochran 69 71 70

A Magee 70 68 72

211

L Rinker 70 70 71

B Glasson 68 74 69

K Perry 69 72 70

S Hoch 72 69 70

P Azinger 68 73 70

N Price (Zim) 70 73 68

S Flesch 75 69 67

212

P Goydos 70 70 72

H Sutton 72 68 72

F Funk 70 71 71

T Lehman 71 71 70

F Couples 74 71 67

I Woosnam (GB) 70 75 67

B Tway 69 76 67

B Faxon 70 68 74

213

B Andrade 68 77 68

S Verplank 71 71 71

B Estes 68 76 69

214

S Leaney (Aus) 72 70 72

C Franco (Par) 71 70 73

C Stadler 69 74 71

PH Horgan 71 71 72

D Waldorf 74 70 70

P-U Johansson (Swe) 69 74 71

M Calcavecchia 70 73 71

J Sluman 71 73 70

D Hart 70 75 69

G Day 68 71 74

C Montgomerie (GB) 70 67 77

215

D Frost (SA) 70 69 76

J Don Blake 70 72 73

O Browne 73 71 71

E Els (SA) 72 72 71

216

J Carter 71 73 72

N Faldo (GB) 73 71 72

D Ogrin 73 72 71

K Sutherland 74 71 71

217

T Byrum 72 71 74

J Durant 75 68 74

J Sindelar 71 71 75

L Roberts 72 71 74

J Maggert 71 73 73

S Lowery 76 69 72

M Brooks 72 73 72

B Watts 72 73 72

218

P Mickleson 70 70 78

J Haas 72 73 73

S Maruyama (Japan) 68 77 73

B Fabel 73 72 73

219

R Karlsson (Sweden) 71 73 75

J Ozaki 73 71 75

T Dodds (Nam) 69 75 75

C s Perry 73 71 75

C Parry (Aus) 70 75 74

220

T Tryba 70 74 76

A Coltart (GB) 70 75 75

222

B Geiberger 73 70 79

T Herron 73 70 79

D Sutherland 77 68 77

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