Golf: No missing links for eager Els

Andrew Farrell, in Carnoustie, looks ahead to a revitalised Scottish Open
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Colin Montgomerie would give anything to be crowned Scottish Open champion. In their search for a new sponsor, the promoters, Alan Callan's CPMA Group, should have tried the Scot who picked up pounds 127,551 in winning the Murphy's Irish Open on Sunday. They did the next best thing and sold the event to Monty's agents, the International Management Group.

The Mark McCormack organisation will promote the tournament from next year after a multi-million pound deal, which includes the commercial rights to the Rugby World Cup, previously a venture between CPMA and IMG. Their first job is to boost the prize money, which has fallen from pounds 650,000 last year to pounds 480,000.

"It was a difficult decision to make, but was really an economic one," Charles Perring, of CPMA, said. "Last year's tournament made a substantial loss, in excess of six figures." The event ran into difficulties after losing Bell's as title sponsors after the 1994 event. That was also the last tournament to be played at Gleneagles and the first to be televised by BSkyB.

In the early 1990s the tournament attracted crowds of 114,00 for the week and television audiences of five to six million. Last year, when it moved to Carnoustie, the attendance was 79,000 and the viewing figures around 600,000. The switch in television arrangements came about when the Tour sold the rights to the Ryder Cup to Sky. Perring said CPMA were consulted, but had minimal input.

"There are a lot of benefits associated with satellite TV," Perring said. "The television production is very good, but when marketing directors look at household reach and impact, terrestrial television has a stronger pull. When we were at Gleneagles we were getting seven figures for the title sponsorship, which went a long way to underwriting the costs of the event. We could have sold the title sponsorship rights this year, but we would only have got around pounds 300,000.

"We had hoped that the Scottish Open could be self-sufficient and keep a clean title, but there is a limit to how long you can put in your own money into something."

There are, however, fewer big names than usual, so Carnoustie offers the perfect links preparation for next week's Open Championship at Royal Lytham. Topping the bill are Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam and the South African Ernie Els, who only committed to the tournament the day after the prize money reduction was announced.

Els said: "I believe to prepare properly for the British Open you have to play links golf. Maybe some of the guys who are not here should look past the prize money. For me, playing a great course like this is the thing to do."

The American representation is made up of the likes of Tommy Tolles and Tim Herron, the biggest name being that of the Stanford student, Tiger Woods. It was here last year that Gordon Sherry finished fourth, the best European tour result by an amateur. Now a professional, Sherry, like many others, is looking for one of the five available exemptions for the Open to avoid the final qualifying.

Montgomerie, who is closing on Greg Norman at the top of the world rankings, is looking higher. "The rankings are done on an average and I play more than Greg, so I've got to keep winning or doing well," he said. "Last week was important not only because I won, but I began to hole out my putts well again. Winning is exhausting, and I dashed home on Sunday and drove yesterday, but I'm physically fitter and mentally tougher so I really have no excuse."