Montgomerie casts aside problems to make a 'new start'

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From the warm applause on the first tee to the sympathetic sigh on the 18th green when his birdie-putt just failed to topple into the hole, Colin Montgomerie enjoyed the first round of the British Masters as a haven from his personal problems.

From the warm applause on the first tee to the sympathetic sigh on the 18th green when his birdie-putt just failed to topple into the hole, Colin Montgomerie enjoyed the first round of the British Masters as a haven from his personal problems.

The 40-year-old Scot last week announced that he was separating from his wife, a subject that did not go unnoticed by various sections of the media. He considered skipping a few tournaments, but despite having missed Wednesday's pro-am and not having had a practice round on the Forest of Arden course, he was on the range yesterday in plenty of time to prepare for his lunchtime tee-off.

Montgomerie soon realised he was in sympathetic territory. "Walking on to the first tee was a delight for me," he said. "The support was fabulous and I will remember that for a long time." Not even the beeping noise of a reversing lorry affected him, although a bogey at the opening hole was followed by another at the third, where he missed a short tap-in.

But a run of three birdies in the next five holes soon had a smile on the Scotsman's face as he relaxed into the company of Lee Westwood and Nick Faldo. Faldo has been through two divorces, but this was not the time or place to offer advice.

Montgomerie finished with a level-par score of 72, which left him six strokes behind the lead. "Today's score didn't really matter," he said. "I'm just glad I'm here. Today was an important day and I will remember this day for a long time. It was very important to get out and play golf, to put the other parts of my life aside and get on with doing what I do best, my job.

"Today was a new start. It was nice to be away from everything, to have my phone turned off for five hours. I enjoyed that. I enjoyed Nick and Lee's company and we had a good game. I look forward to trying to put a better score on the board tomorrow and competing at the weekend. But I came here with very low expectations so 72 is not disappointing."

Montgomerie, who on his last appearance crashed out of the Masters with an 80 on the second day, will fulfil his corporate commitments next week and then will play a heavy schedule to help ensure he stays in the world's top-50 and qualifies for the US Open and the Open at Troon. But he is not setting too many targets as yet, and that includes September's Ryder Cup.

"I have to keep to my schedule," he said. "It is difficult to concentrate fully right now but this happens to a lot of people and you still have to do your job. If it is going to take six months or whatever until I'm playing to my own ability again, I might as well start sooner rather than later. There is no thought of anything come September or anything like that."

England's David Howell, with his best round of the season despite this being only his second tournament after returning from a shoulder injury, managed the rare feat on a course with thick and saturated rough of not dropping a shot. Andrew Coltart was among those one off the lead as he and Howell upstaged some of the bigger stars of the ISM company, who are promoting the event, Darren Clarke scoring a 70 and Westwood a 71.

BRITISH MASTERS (Forest of Arden) Leading early first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 66 D Howell. 67 K Ferrie, A Coltart, T Immelman (SA). 68 M Lafeber (Neth). 69 C Monasterio (Arg), P Marantz (Aus), M A Martin (Sp), R-J Derksen (Neth). 70 S Lyle, F Remesy (Fr), D Clarke, I Woosnam, J-F Lucquin (Fr), C Schwartzel (SA), T Price (Aus), A Forsyth. 71 G Orr, R Russell, S Dodd, M Roe, Christopher Hanell (Swe), G Brand Jnr, I Giner (Sp), D McGrane.

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