Montgomerie comes out swinging for heavyweight bout with Els

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The Independent Online

With their usual diet of strokeplay competitions, professional golfers rarely get to land a knock-out blow, which makes the head-to-head action at the World Match Play starting here today a welcome diversion. Colin Montgomerie, although admitting he would have been "crap at boxing", certainly prefers taking down his opponents one by one.

"If I could choose a sport again, it would be a one-on-one sport, as opposed to having 155 competitors against me," said the Scot. If not boxing, what else might Monty have taken up? "Tennis – I'd be too slow, wouldn't get the ball back. Darts, maybe?" Sumo wrestling was suggested. "OK, I'll stick to the golf."

Montgomerie added: "In strokeplay, you play your ball against the course. I much prefer to play against the man." Unless, of course, that man is Ernie Els. The first-round meeting of theses two former winners – Els six times, Monty once – today over 36 holes of the West course is a match fit for a final. Actually, it was the final back in 1994.

Monty usually comes out with a line about being one-up on the first tee when he drives through the gates of Wentworth. The problem, however, is that Els does not even have to do that, living as he does on the estate. This is their third meeting in this event and Monty has never been as much as one-up in their previous contests. Els won both the 1994 final and in the 2002 quarter-finals. As he did their contests in the 1994 and 1997 US Opens. The only time Montgomerie remembers beating Els was at Sun City when the local gallery, Els' country folk, had disappeared long before a very quiet presentation ceremony.

With form indifferent of late, Montgomerie spent hours in the pouring rain on Tuesday working on his putting. He believes he putts better in the head-to-head form of the game. "Every putt is for a win, or a half, and they have to get to the hole," he said.

With a first prize of £1m, this week could be an important one in the battle to finish Europe's No 1 between Open champion Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose. But both will have to worry about their opening duels first, with Harrington facing two-time PGA winner at Wentworth, Anders Hansen, and Rose up against young American Hunter Mahan. Paul Casey, the defending champion, has drawn another American in Jerry Kelly.

In an early South African-Argentina encounter, Retief Goosen plays US Open champion Angel Cabrera. Goosen's most recent claim to fame is launching his own wine label. Given his compatriots Els and David Frost are already in the grape business, it seems the competition on the reds is as fierce as it is on the greens. Apparently, "The Goose's" product is slightly lighter than the Els version, just like their treads. It is Montgomerie who needs to avoid being trodden all over today.