Chips put O'Meara in shape for final World Matchplay: Montgomerie does not need to bare his teeth to make short work of Harrington

IF COLIN MONTGOMERIE is to win the Cisco World Matchplay Championship for the first time today he must make sure Mark O'Meara does not have the chance to hole another vital chip shot. The American, who beat Tiger Woods in the final a year ago by holing a putt from off the green at the 36th, beat Craig Parry by chipping-in at the third extra hole on Friday, and saw off Nick Price in similar style yesterday.

IF COLIN MONTGOMERIE is to win the Cisco World Matchplay Championship for the first time today he must make sure Mark O'Meara does not have the chance to hole another vital chip shot. The American, who beat Tiger Woods in the final a year ago by holing a putt from off the green at the 36th, beat Craig Parry by chipping-in at the third extra hole on Friday, and saw off Nick Price in similar style yesterday.

O'Meara, who fought back from three down at lunch, when he required further treatment on his injured neck, sank another pitch from left of the final green for an eagle. Price, whose putting deserted him in the afternoon, had to hole from over 50 feet for the half, but though it touched the cup, it stayed out.

Both today's finalists have health worries and both are clients of the promoters, Mark McCormack's International Management Group. But while Montgomerie is looking for his sixth win of the season, O'Meara is looking for his first since his stunning double-major year in 1998. The American defeated the Scot 5 and 4 on his way to the final last year. "I was fortunate to beat him last year, and I know Colin will be looking for redemption," O'Meara said.

Monty is not used to defeats at Wentworth and will be looking for a Wentworth double after winning the PGA Championship, for the second year running, over the West Course in May. His infected tooth is only a problem in cold air, and Europe's No 1 made sure he finished his work for the day while the brilliant sunshine was still around with a 7 and 6 victory over Padraig Harrington.

In 65 holes over two days here Monty is 21 under par with just two bogeys. In May, he was 18 under for 72 holes in winning the PGA. His morning 66 yesterday put him five up, and he cruised home after lunch.

The second semi took almost four hours in the morning with Harrington not the quickest of players, as the Americans found out at the Ryder Cup. As O'Meara can testify from their singles at Brookline, he is a canny matchplayer, though, an attribute he developed in his long amateur career when he bemoaned the fact that he could not reproduce the same form in strokeplay as he could in matchplay.

His stock has well and truly risen in recent months after he valiantly qualified for the Ryder Cup team in the last counting event, in his performance at Brookline and since then.

"My swing is not as good as it was earlier in the season, but maybe I have more confidence," he said. Whatever, his scalps of Carlos Franco and Ernie Els could be prized, but tiredness had crept in as he drove out of bounds at the 15th and the 17th to hand Montgomerie his handsome lead.

"It's a convenient excuse but I lost concentration because of the tiredness," Harrington said.

No one appreciates his bye into the second round more than Monty. "I've won two games, he's won two games and he's going home and I'm in the final," Montgomerie said. "The sooner there are no seeded players, the better. Pete Sampras does not get a bye at Wimbledon. He has to play on the first Monday like everyone else."

But without admitting to a defeatist attitude, Harrington conceded that the right man had got through. "He is the No 3 in the world. My best can't beat his best. Monty playing his best is phenomenal. He is great under pressure."

To prove the point, Montgomerie holed five vital putts in a row from the fourth in the afternoon to avoid giving the Irishman a sniff of an opportunity of fighting back. The change-around in his putting, which caused his failure to clinch victories at the British Masters and the Lancÿme Trophy, is staggering.

"My two PGAs here show I can read these greens and I went to an old putter at the Ryder Cup. That changed the feel, and I'm a feel player. The Ryder Cup fired me up. I love that competition, and it's kept going."

Described by Notah Begay as the "best matchplayer in the world", Montgomerie has had the double incentive of his golf taking his mind off tomorrow's tooth extraction and winning this title for the first time. In a year when a seventh Order of Merit title beckons but a major evaded him again, to be World Matchplay champion would be a considerable consolation. "When you look at the roll of honour you see this is a tournament of quality," he said.

O'Meara admitted he had to raise his game to prevent that happening. As Price said: "The way I played today I would have been cannon-fodder for Monty, and Mark has the same problem tomorrow."

Price three-putted three times in the afternoon. "My feel left me," he said. O'Meara woke up feeling his injured neck again but after treatment it eased up in the afternoon and he holed from 30 feet at the eighth to square the match. After going ahead for the first time at the 14th, he found the trees off the tee at the next two holes and was lucky to find himself level playing the last.

In the semi-rough 40 yards short and left of the green in two, a spectator told him to chip it in. "I said to myself that sounds easier than it is," O'Meara recalled, "but as soon as I hit it, I knew I'd hit an excellent pitch. Any time you hole a pitch like that there is luck involved, but if you are going to get lucky, that was the right time."

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