Golf: Scot aims for cold comfort in Thame

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The Independent Online
News that snow has been sweeping the country is no surprise to those with access to the European Tour schedule. The Tour reaches these shores for the first time today, which has had players reaching for the thermal underwear and woolly hats that were packed neatly away after the Dunhill Cup at St Andrews.

The Benson and Hedges International, in its 27th year, is the longest running sponsored event on the tour, although the new Government may have something to say about tobacco sponsorship, and used to be held in the summer at Fulford. Then it moved to St Mellion in May and its switch last year to The Oxfordshire did nothing to raise the temperature.

Winds of Siberian origins roared through Thame, and what they lacked in bitterness on the final day was made up in pure velocity. Colin Montgomerie, who left in such a hurry he was still wearing his spikes as he dodged the speed cameras on the M40, shot 84, Ian Woosnam 82, Nick Faldo 80 and Bernhard Langer a 79. All but Faldo returned to the scene of Stephen Ames's victory and got hailed on during the pro-am for their trouble.

Montgomerie, whose US Masters campaign dissolved with closing rounds of 74 and 81, is intent on gaining his first win of the year in the next four weeks before heading back to the States for the US Open.

"I didn't dwell on the Masters," he said. "There is nothing wrong with my golf. You have bad days, just as I did here last year. There's a few that have got away. I won't be happy if I don't win in the next four weeks."

Despite reports to the contrary, Europe's No 1 will not expand his American schedule next year. "I feel comfortable with the position I hold here," Montgomerie said. "If you are No 1 in one country, it is sometimes difficult to go somewhere else. Winning here is slightly easier than in the States."

If proof were needed, the Scot's record is 12 wins at home and none in America. But he has brought home the US Tour's work ethic of practising chipping and putting.

"We are better ball-strikers, but where they outscore us is in the ability to get up and go from anywhere. It is more of an effort here in the cold than in Florida with the sun on your back," he added.

Like Langer, who won for the first time on the Tour with his long putter in Italy at the weekend, Spain's Seve Ballesteros arrived buoyed by having finally completed a 72-hole tournament and was contemplating what golf can do about Tiger Woods.

"I would not change the courses, I'd change the ball," Ballesteros said. "I'd make it bigger. It would not go so far and it would be easier for them to find it in the rough." Then he smiled, shrugged and added: "And for me, too."