Golf: Westwood feels the pressure

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WHILE COLIN Montgomerie pounded away on the practice range, Lee Westwood limped his way around the K Club and out of next week's tournament. Westwood is doubtful to complete the Smurfit European Open after suffering a recurrence of a left hip injury and has withdrawn from the BMW International in Munich starting on Thursday.

Westwood leads the order of merit but every pound may be important in determining the money list. The 25-year-old is facing strong opposition from Montgomerie and Darren Clarke and with a record tour purse of pounds 1.25m on offer, even finishing down the field could be worth the pain.

But Westwood is also concerned about his long-term health prospects and will take more time off if necessary. He had to withdraw from the German Masters after the Ryder Cup last year. "The problem started last week," Westwood, who missed the cut in the USPGA Championship, said. "It comes on when I put too much pressure on the hip. It started aching at the 13th yesterday but it was earlier today."

Starting the day at four over par, Westwood suffered a triple bogey at the sixth and finished with a 77 to be nine over. Montgomerie, meanwhile, was attempting a personal best for number of balls hit on the range. The Scot is facing the first swing meltdown of his 11-year professional career. His rise to the top - and five European order of merit victories - was based on refining his fade but this season an ugly hook has crept into his game. At the same time, he has been avoiding any form of coaching so the problem has had time to fester.

Worryingly for Montgomerie, his troubles may stem from trying to strengthen his array of shots - major championships are won by players capable of hitting a variety of shapes on demand - first with his old mentor Bill Ferguson and then with Denis Pugh last year. Golf is full of those who have tried something similar only to never rediscover the thing that made them successful in the first place. "It will take a month for me to be in contention again," said Montgomerie.

A third round 70 from Darren Clarke put him in position to close the gap on Westwood at the top of the money list but that was the furthest thing from his mind yesterday. It was an emotional day for the Ulsterman from County Tyrone. Dressed in black, Clarke, who is organising a pro- am in aid of the Omagh Fund, was one of the prime movers in ensuring players and spectators observed the one-minute silence at 3.10pm as a mark of respect for the tragedy at Omagh last week. "It is not that other atrocities haven't affected me, but this one has hit deeper with everyone," Clarke said. "It was a senseless, murderous act."

Clarke goes into the final round on three under par in third place. With Bernhard Langer falling away, and, less surprisingly, Gary Nicklaus, the Swede Mathias Gronberg leads at ten under by three from American Craig Hainline.

Any doubts Mark James will not be installed as the Ryder Cup captain on Wednesday are receding, although James is not in talkative mood. "If and when someone is announced as captain, I'm sure he will be happy to spend as long as you want talking," James said.