Couch sessions give Little confidence to attack the leaderboard

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The Independent Online

Little attributed his recent good form, which led to a share of 13th place at last week's French Open, largely to the help of a sports psychologist, Karl Morris. The Manchester-based sports shrink has also worked with Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, who had a 67 yesterday, and has been working with Little since March.

"You come to a point where you see the light bulb go on and you feel as though you are able to take on board what people [such as psychologists] can offer," Little said. "Up to March, I was always, certainly not antsy, but maybe just thought I could do it [myself]."

Little added that Morris works on "all of the issues that you're going to experience playing tournament golf", but especially confidence. "I think that people like Ian Poulter, who are blessed with a tremendous amount of confidence, are in the minority, definitely."

On a day when the field's biggest international names were a little off the pace - Ernie Els carded 70, Phil Mickelson a bogey-birdie mix for 67, Retief Goosen 71 and Adam Scott 70 (after spoiling two eagles with a triple bogey) - it was left to players from these shores to shine. Lee Westwood, England's world No 39, shot a 65 in a bogey-free round for a share of third place, where Scotland's Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open winner at Carnoustie, joined him. Lawrie had one eagle and five birdies in a round where a bogey five on the second cost him a share of the lead.

Liverpool's Nick Dougherty, who, like Little, sees this event as a last chance of qualifying for next week's Open, shot a 66 to leave him among a small following pack, including America's Tom Lehman. Colin Montgomerie stayed in contention with a 68.

One Englishman whose day went pear-shaped before he reached the first tee was Greg Owen, who discovered he had missed out on a place at The Open that he was never aware could have been his. A place at St Andrews arose when Billy Mayfair withdrew, and it was subsequently announced that Mayfair's fellow American, Bob Tway, was filling the gap as the next highest ranked non-exempt player.

Owen, 33, from Mansfield, is ranked higher than Tway but because he withdrew from last week's American qualifying tournament, the Royal and Ancient deemed he had pulled out of The Open. Owen carded a 67 here yesterday.