Mickelson has first major in sight as Montgomerie flops

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The Independent Online

Thomas Bjorn, a man who says he does not get his predictions right that often, said on the eve of the 85th USPGA that Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie, in his opinion the best two players not yet to have won a major, would be worth watching at Oak Hill. The Dane could not have been more right about Mickelson, and if the same applied to Monty it was not in the manner Bjorn was thinking.

Mickelson scored a four-under-par 66 in the first round to tie for the lead with Australia's Rod Pampling. The pair were two strokes ahead of the Masters champion, Mike Weir. Mickelson is hoping to extend the present streak of first-time major winners to five, while Pampling, who is married to a clinical psychologist, became a footnote in history after leading on the first day of the Open at Carnoustie in 1999 and then missing the cut.

But Montgomerie crashed to his worst round in the States with an 82. At 12 over he was joined by the defending champion, Rich Beem, and Brad Faxon, but only a couple of the club professionals who make up the field in the USPGA fared worse yesterday morning.

Statistically, Monty's 84 in the third round of the Open at Muirfield last year was even worse but then he did have the excuse of the huge storm. This course, with its thick rough, would have been ideal for Montgomerie in his prime, including when he played here in the Ryder Cup in 1995.

But it is a long time since Monty regularly found the fairways and it has been a turbulent year for the Scot, with things not improving since turning 40 in June. He fell and sprained his thumb on the morning of the first round of the Open at Sandwich last month and had to withdraw after only seven holes.

The Scot returned to action last week at the Nordic Open and finished second to Ian Poulter to recover some confidence as he headed across the Atlantic. It soon evaporated in the hot and humid conditions after he hooked his opening tee shot at the 10th hole behind a tree.

He dropped a shot and would do so almost every time he failed to find a fairway. At the 13th hole, he put his third into the gallery and ended up on a woman's tea towel, which happened to be covered in whales. His day would not get better. He bogeyed two of the hardest holes on the course, the 17th and the 18th, to turn in six over and made four bogeys in a row from the seventh before also dropping shots at his last two holes.

"I didn't have a double-bogey," said the weary Scot. "The six pars were good. I didn't hit many fairways. Never mind, I'll try again tomorrow." Denis Pugh, Monty's coach, offered the most succinct appraisal of his man's game with a single word, "crap".

The best any of the morning Europeans could do were the 73s of Lee Westwood, and the USPGA debutants Alastair Forsyth and Luke Donald. Westwood, who owes his place here to an invitation from the president of the PGA of America for being part of the winning Ryder Cup team at The Belfry rather than his lowly world ranking, said: "This place tests every aspect of your game. I played solidly and only missed one fairway where I had to hack out."

Even Tiger Woods, despite returning to a faithful old driver, could not survive while missing fairways. At least he did not lose a ball on his opening hole as at the Open. He found the left rough and still made his par. It was his putter that kept the world No 1 alive, but he could make only one birdie and missed from two feet at the ninth, his last, for another bogey.

Woods was left on 74, one stroke better than the new Open champion, Ben Curtis. The surprising Curtis started only his second major with four bogeys in a row but steadied the ship to play the remaining 14 holes in one over.

Hal Sutton, the American Ryder Cup captain for the match in Detroit next year, wants to talk to Woods at next week's NEC World Invitational. Woods hardly appeared to be a team man at The Belfry last year, wearing different clothes and skipping an official practice session.

"I don't have any doubts about how much Tiger cares," Sutton said. "This man cares every time he puts that peg in the ground. If there's a person in the world that doubts how much Tiger Woods cares, then he doesn't understand the game very much. The man does not like to lose.

"Tiger has not been very vocal in the team room. He's just tried to play his game. I don't think there's a player that will make the team alongside him that doesn't have the utmost respect for his abilities. I think if he had something to share with the team, everybody would listen intently.

"I will be trying to impress upon him to share things. He's the first guy that I want to talk to and I'm going to chat with him next week."

EARLY FIRST ROUND SCORES FROM OAK HILL

(US unless stated) 66

P Mickelson, R Pampling (Aus)

68

M Weir (Can)

69

T Herron

S Micheel

K Sutherland

70

R Allenby (Aus)

T Hamilton

L Roberts

D Waldorf

R Gamez

C Howell III

71

A Cabrera (Arg)

J Durant

G Ogilvy (Aus)

T Izawa (Japan)

72

W Austin

J Furyk

P Tataurangi (NZ)

R Sabbatini (SA)

R Karlsson (Swe)

G Sauers

73

P Azinger

B Baird

A Forsyth (GB)

C Franco (Par)

P Jacobsen

C Riley

L Westwood (GB)

L Donald (GB)

C Sullivan

74

S Appleby (Aus)

K J Choi (S Kor)

B Gay

S McCarron

J M Olazabal (Sp)

C Pettersson (Swe)

T Woods

D Berry

75

B Curtis

I Garrido (Sp)

B Langer (Ger)

K Perry

J Sluman

A Stolz (Aus)

T Thelen

D Toms

76

J Daly

M Gronberg (Swe)

F Jacobson (Swe)

K Triplett

S Katayama (Japan)

J Kelly

C Sciorra

77

R Gonzalez (Arg)

J Rose (GB)

S Schneiter

T Bjorn (Den)

J Huston

78

A Hansen (Den)

B Tway

S Farren

J Lankford

P Price (GB)

79

P Casey (GB)

D Lucchesi

C Parry (Aus)

S Cink

W DeFrancesco

80

M Combs

81

J Rollins

82

R Beem

B Faxon

C Montgomerie (GB)

R A Philo Jnr

84

D Spengler

86

J Guyton

87

J Jacobs

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