Justin show puts Monty in shadowlands

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As Colin Montgomerie made a hasty retreat from Georgia after another lost weekend at Augusta National, Justin Rose was within arm's reach of a Green Jacket. There was, of course, many a slip 'twixt cup and lip beckoning over the remaining 36 holes, but Rose of England seemed remarkably composed at the Garden City.

As Colin Montgomerie made a hasty retreat from Georgia after another lost weekend at Augusta National, Justin Rose was within arm's reach of a Green Jacket. There was, of course, many a slip 'twixt cup and lip beckoning over the remaining 36 holes, but Rose of England seemed remarkably composed at the Garden City.

The 23-year-old from Hampshire stood at the top of the leader board at the halfway stage of the 68th Masters following rounds of 67 and 71. His aggregate of 138 gave him a two-stroke lead over two fellow members of the European tour Jose Maria Olazabal and Alexander Cejka. Rose was at six under par for the tournament, Olazabal and Cejka at four under and they were one stroke in front of the Californian Phil Mickelson.

What Mickelson and Montgomerie have in common is that they have enjoyed brilliant careers without winning a major championship. The difference is that Mickelson always gives himself a chance of winning the Masters. Monty, apparently, does not.

Even after shooting a very creditable 71 in the first round, Montgomerie, who won a record seven consecutive order of merits on the European Tour, refused to talk about his round before leaving the course. His behaviour on Thursday was almost polite compared to his departure on Friday evening, after he had recorded an 80 which left him at seven over par for the tournament.

Once again he missed the halfway cut and, according to those closest to him, set a land speed record in moving from the 18th green to the car park. This was his 51st appearance in a major championship, his 51st comparative failure.

It probably didn't help Monty that he was playing behind Arnold Palmer and his demob happy army. This was Palmer's valediction, his 50th and final appearance at the Spring Classic, at least as a competitor. The 74-year-old Palmer, as expected, missed the cut. The television companies over here focused on Arnie's last hurrah, almost to the point of a dereliction of duty in following the players at the top of the leader board.

Rose was barely seen on the screens, but maybe that was no bad thing. "As you get closer to the finishing line you know everything's up for grabs and I am sure it will get tougher and tougher," Rose said. "You can still grow in confidence. I think I am lucky in a lot of ways and I feel I can draw on things that have happened to me."

Rose was referring to the death of his father and coach Ken a couple of years ago, not to mention a dispiriting start to his professional career. As a 17-year-old amateur he made a sensational impression in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 1998 when he finished fourth. He immediately turned professional, but on the European tour missed 21 successive cuts.

It was an experience that would have persuaded most people to seek alternative employment. Rose persevered and has subsequently won four tournaments, making him financially secure.

Ken Rose always maintained that his son had the strength of a tiger. Talking of which, Tiger Woods put himself back into the frame with a 69 in the second round following a 75. Whereas Rose, who has been in America for the last eight weeks, has been working on his game with the Florida-based British coach David Leadbetter, Woods is into DIY after parting company with his tutor Butch Harmon.

Mickelson, like Woods, had a 69 second round and was one stroke in front of K J Choi. Rose is playing in only his second Masters, as is Choi, and the Korean has a very experienced navigator by his side. His caddie is Andy Prodger, the Englishman who is well acquainted with the vagaries of Augusta National, having successfully partnered Nick Faldo here.

Choi, the son of a rice farmer, has a most unlikely background for a man on the leader board of the Masters. He never saw a golf club until he was 16 and, at 5ft 8in, felt he did not have the stature to make a living in professional golf. However, he changed his mind when he saw the little Welshman Ian Woosnam. Choi turned professional in 1994 and featured on the Korean, Japanese, European and Asian tours before setting up home in America. He finished joint 35th in the US Tour qualifying school in 1999 and has since recorded two victories.

Olazabal was among the 18 players who, because of a thunderstorm, had to finish the first round on Friday morning. The Spaniard, who won the Masters in 1994 and 1999, birdied the 18th hole to complete a one-under par 71. In his second round he was level with par through 12 holes, but then made a dramatic move with an eagle three at the 13th followed by birdies at the 14th and 15th. "It was a very quiet round until I got to the 13th," said Olazabal, who sank a 40-foot putt there.

Davies Love III, Olazabal's playing partner over the first two rounds, also made a move, 67 on day two advancing him up the leaderboard. "I don't know why people underestimate Olly," Love said. "I think there is something about this place that gets him fired up. He knows he has a chance here as soon as he drives through the gates. He's very relentless. It doesn't really matter what kind of shots he hits or where his ball is. He never gives up. You can really appreciate a guy who is that focused."

Olazabal, who was paired with Choi, said: "Every time I come here I'm determined to do my best. In a way I feel at peace with myself."

If only the same could be said of Montgomerie. He has never been further away from a Green Jacket after another undignified exit. The Scotsman did not have Georgia on his mind, but a holiday trip to Barbados, where he is designing a golf course.

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