Monty had only just pulled his shot off the fairway but could hardly find the ball. His only course of action having done so was to chip back on to the fairway. This, contrary to what you would expect, put the Scot in carnival mood and he capitalised to the extent of an opening 64.
Having not got on to the course when the pro-am was cancelled on Wednesday, Montgomerie had not seen the layout since a year ago and so only now appreciated what a lot of fertiliser, a wet April and a warm May can produce in the way of long-stemmed grass.
"I was actually rejuvenated by seeing how difficult the rough was because that plays into my hands. It favours me," Montgomerie said. "Other people were going to be tentative and I get confident from other people not being confident."
Of course, it helped that Montgomerie holed a putt from 20 feet for his par. He then holed from eight feet, 20 and 20 again for birdies at the next three holes. Hardly a day goes by without Monty moaning about his putting but this was an exception. Excluding the one at his last hole which was from the fringe but was another important par-saver when a double- bogey seven looked likely, the official statistics showed Montgomerie took only 24 putts. "That's encouraging, well below average," he beamed. Five putts below average, to be exact.
His eight-under-par effort, his lowest of the season, was one outside the course record and gave him a one-stroke lead over France's Nicolas Joakimides, while Belgium's Nicolas Vanhootegem, after missing 10 cuts in 11 events so far this season, was among those on six-under. The pair are sharing a hotel room this week. "There must be magic in the room," Joakimides said.
"I really do wish that a lot of our courses were set up in this manner," Monty added. "It is fantastic to see that you're punished for a bad shot. We'd all be better players for playing courses of this strictness more often."
Not everyone agreed, particularly Lee Westwood, who along with Darren Clarke narrowly lost out to Montgomerie as Golfer of the Month for May. Westwood pointed out that while the rough just off the fairway, where he found himself en route to a double bogey at the eighth, had been cultivated, 20 yards further away it had not been. "If the rough is going to be long, it should be long everywhere," Westwood, who went to the turn in 38 to be 10 shots off the lead, said. "Then I decided to concentrate on hitting the fairway." This proved more fruitful as the 25-year-old came home in 30, with four birdies and an eagle at the 17th, to lie four off the lead.
Westwood and Clarke will today take part in a special clinic as part of the Golf Foundation's Starter Centre Initiative to find future stars. Launched in March, over 200 centres have already been set up with 20,000 juniors enrolled. So successful has the project been that further funding is required and members of every club in the country are to be asked for a pounds 1 donation.
THE ENGLISH OPEN (Hanbury Manor) Leading first-round scores (GB unless stated): 64 C Montgomerie; 65 N Joakimides (Fr); 66 N Vanhootegem (Bel), S Leaney (Aus), J Robson; 67 A Coltart, R Allenby (Aus); 68 MA Jimenez (Sp), D Cooper, D Robertson, R Wessels (SA), P Sjoland (Swe), L Westwood, W Riley (Aus); 69 P Baker, P Eales, R Muntz (Neth), R Rafferty, J Rivero (Sp), R Jacquelin (Fr), V Phillips; 70 I Garbutt, P Mitchell, J Van de Velde (Fr), G Evans, S Richardson, F Tarnaud (Fr), C Suneson (Sp), M Farry (Fr), J Remesy (Fr), T Gogele (Ger), O Karlsson (Swe), D Lynn, S Alker (NZ), G Chalmers (Aus), I Garrido (Sp), J Townsend (US).