GOLF : Spirited start by Scotsman

TIM GLOVER reports from St Mellion
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The Independent Online
To the left of the 18th green, nestling proudly on a bank, is a splendid battleship grey MGB Roadster with a V8 engine. This is the prize for anybody lucky enough to get an eagle two. The registration number is BNH 25, marking Benson and Hedges' 25th anniversary of the International Open, and the way the 18th was playing yesterday the car could be there for another 25 years.

It is not, of course, impossible to get an eagle at the last here but you would have a better chance of recording an ugly duckling. At 472 yards it is the longest par four on the course and the green, full of humps and borrows, is made all the more treacherous by having a duck pond as a neighbour. Since the B&H moved from Fulford in York to Cornwall, only one man has had a two at the 18th, Glyn Davies in 1992. Had he done it in 1991 he would have won £5,000. In 1992 there was no special prize.

Anyway, yesterday during the first round the majority of the players were more in danger of hitting the car than the green. The hood of the MGB was up to protect the interior from rain. Had the championship been held last week, as it normally is, the field would have complained of heat exhaustion. Instead they had the umbrellas, the bobble hats and the mittens out and a par four at the 18th was considered a major achievement.

Of the 150 players only one managed to get a birdie three at the last and he was the young Scottish amateur, Gordon Sherry. Sixes and sevens were prevalent at the 18th and the hole did for another Scotsman, Sandy Lyle.

Lyle - remember him - was in a position to record his first bogey-free round for donkey's years. However, at the 18th he drove into a bunker and had to settle for a double-bogey six. Even so Lyle finished at one under par with a 71 and should make the half-way cut today.

Lyle, who is 210th in the Order of Merit with prize money of Pd2,299.39, won the championship in 1985 at Fulford with an aggregate of 274. At the Jack Nicklaus-designed St Mellion only Paul Broadhurst has come close to that, winning here in 1993 with a total of 276.

Broadhurst, who had a successful Ryder Cup debut four years ago, has been going through a Lyle-like slump but he saw a few green shoots of recovery in Milan last week, finishing third in the Italian Open and yesterday he appeared on the leaderboard with a 68, four-under and a stroke behind the leader, Colin Montgomerie.

"I've never known a course like this," Broadhurst said. "There is potential disaster on every shot." Broadhurst has been trying to eradicate a hook but he thinks he can get round St Mellion by using his driver sparingly. He didn't pull the club out of the bag until the ninth hole by which time he had already made five birdies. At the first he sank a putt of around 50 feet and at the third he pitched in from 45 feet.

Montgomerie, armed with a new set of clubs, has coach Bill Ferguson here and a round of 67 is the best start the Scotsman has made at St Mellion. "I've led here before but I blew it on the Saturday with an 85," Monty said. That, of course, was when teddy was ejected from the pram but yesterday he was in good spirits even though he didn't putt well. Monty's greatest strength though is the accuracy of his driving.

"I tend to play better on tough courses," he said. "I'm more mentally prepared and the shape of the course suits me down to the ground." Seve Ballesteros, the defending champion, had a level-par 72 that included a double-bogey six at the fifth. From 15 feet he took four putts. "I only hit one bad one, the first, which I pushed four feet past," Ballesteros said. "The next one jumped and missed the hole." Then he missed from two feet. "The greens looked good but were very bumpy," he said.

BENSON AND HEDGES INTERNATIONAL OPEN (St Mellion, Cornwall): Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 67 C Montgomerie. 68 P Broadhurst, R Boxall, P O'Malley (Aus), S Tinning (Den). 69 M Gates, P Senior (Aus), E Darcy. 70 J Bickerton, A Oldcorn, J M Olazabal (Sp), G Evans. 71 G Brand Jnr, M James, S Torrance, P Affleck, D Clarke, H Clark, C Cevaer (Fr), S Lyle, C Mason, H Buhrmann (SA), E Canonica (It), D Hospital (Sp). 72 P Walton, D Curry, O Rojahn (Nor), G Levenson (SA), N Briggs, C Rocca (It), A Hunter, S Ballesteros (Sp), J Hawkes (SA), G Turner (NZ).

73 M Gronberg (Swe), D Westermark (Swe), N Fasth (Swe), P Mitchell, R Wessels (SA), L Parsons, J Coceres (Arg), M Roe, A Binaghi (It), A Forsbrand (Swe), F Nobilo (NZ), A Murray, I Garrido (Sp), M Harwood (Aus), F Lindgren (Swe), S Struver (Ger). 74 P Fulke (Swe), I Pyman, M Archer, R Claydon, S McAllister, D Williams, P Mayo, B Lane, A Cejka (Ger), S Watson, S Hurley, M Davis, W Westner (SA), D R Jones, R Chapman, G Emerson, M Hallberg (Swe), R Allenby (Aus), B Langer (Ger), J Sandelin (Swe), A Sherborne, P Fowler (Aus), B Gallacher.