Golf: Old club aids Bottomley

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STEVEN BOTTOMLEY, the 33-year-old Yorkshireman from Bingley, brought back memories of his performance at the 1995 Open at St Andrews, when he returned to a discarded putter in Madeira yesterday.

Bottomley, whose golf has gone into a severe slump during the past 18 months, shot an eight-under-par 64 in the Madeira Island Open pro-am, and it was the putter he used at St Andrews that did the damage.

He shot 69 in the final round to finish joint third, one shot behind John Daly and Costantino Rocca at St Andrews, using a Ping B61 putter. However, last year, after losing his European Tour card, he discarded the club and has used another 10 putters this year.

He said: "I put that putter away after the qualifying school and told myself it wasn't coming back out again. But since then, I've had a very difficult time. I've been playing mainly on the Challenge Tour but after nine seasons on the main tour, I've found it difficult to get motivated.

"Last week in Austria, I putted horribly. I went into my big bag of putters - I've got quite a few - and brought out the old Ping B61, which nearly won me the Open when I sank putts from all over the place."

This week, all the European Tour's leading players are competing in the US Open, and Bottomley added: "This is a great week for me. It's a chance to do what Thomas Levet, the French guy, did earlier in the season - come from nowhere and make your whole year. Today, I holed a few really good putts and my confidence is certainly returning. I just hope I can keep it up."

Unlike Bottomley, the South African Wayne Westner, one of the biggest names in the Madeira field, will not be given the chance to make his year. Westner tore ankle ligaments at the 11th hole during the pro-am after driving close to the lake. He was standing on wooden sleepers when a rotten one collapsed under him, and he fell more than six feet. His ankle was put in a cast at the local hospital, and his tournament was over before it had begun.

Westner should have played with two former winners - the Spaniard Santiago Luna and Sweden's Mats Lanner - in the first round today and there is no reserve available.

Luna, who won in Madeira in 1995 and was second in the Benson and Hedges at the Oxfordshire Golf Club last month, is 16th in the Order of Merit and is favourite to win here again.

l Colin Montgomerie is second favourite behind Tiger Woods at the start of today's US Open, and at 9-1 with Ladbrokes, the American is the biggest price he has been for any tournament in the past year.

The 1997 US Masters winner has dominated the bookies' lists for every tournament he has contested since, but the Briton is closing the gap. Montgomerie is 12-1 for the tournament at the Olympic Club. A Ladbrokes spokesman said: "Although Monty has never won a major, he has come closest in the US Open - and we think this represents his best chance yet. Tigermania has waned in the last 12 months - Woods was as low as 3-1 for some tournaments, but not any more."

Behind Woods and Montgomerie, Ladbrokes rate last year's winner, Ernie Els, at 14-1 to retain his title.