Montgomerie hoping to play in US Open

Colin Montgomerie has not given up hope of making yet another challenge for the United States Open, the event which has given him more heartbreak than any other.

A year after pulling out of the qualifying tournament at Walton Heath, the Ryder Cup captain Montgomerie has said he fully intends to be there this time on May 24. Down at 322nd in the world and no longer exempt for the major in which he has been runner-up three times – and third on his 1992 debut at Pebble Beach, this year's venue – the 46-year-old is among a near-record entry of over 9,000 players for the championship.

"Yes I'll be at Walton Heath,'' he said in Seville yesterday. "I didn't go last year because I was not playing well, but things are far better now – and I have my passion back.''

Five years ago when the European qualifier was staged for the first time Michael Campbell just made it through and then at Pinehurst beat Tiger Woods down the stretch to land his first major.

Asked if he believed he could emulate the New Zealander on the course where he came so close 18 years ago – even Jack Nicklaus congratulated him on what at the time looked to be a winning closing round of 70 - Montgomerie replied: "Well, let's just say that if you're not on the start sheet you can't win.

"Pebble Beach is a lovely place to go and my game is improving.''

The eight-time European No1 has not turned that into results yet, though. His last top 10 finish came when he was runner-up at the French Open in June 2008 and so far this year he has not even managed a top 40 finish.

Currently a lowly 200th on the money list Montgomerie also faces the prospect of having to qualify for The Open at Sunningdale on June 7. The one previous time he did that, in 2004, the Scot survived a play-off. A year later he was runner-up to Woods at St Andrews, but it was in the 2006 US Open that his biggest disappointment came.

Having been pushed into second place by Ernie Els in 1994 and 1997 – he also lost a play-off to Steve Elkington for the 1995 US PGA – Montgomerie double-bogeyed the final hole at Winged Foot to lose by one to Geoff Ogilvy.

It gave him a major championship record of more runners-up finishes – five – than any player who has never won one. Since then Montgomerie has played 11 more majors, missing the cut in nine and finishing 42nd and 58th in the other two.

The US Open entries are only 34 short of last year's record and in age range from 10-year-old Mick Huffman to 81-year-old Harris Moore. Both of them have to go through local qualifying first, but 63 golfers are already exempt to Pebble Beach.

They include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Ross Fisher, Oliver Wilson, Simon Dyson, Ross McGowan and 60-year-old Tom Watson.

In Seville, England's Danny Willett returned to a happy hunting ground and with a second successive 68 stayed in contention for a first European Tour title.

The 22-year-old vicar's son from Sheffield reached halfway in the Spanish Open on eight under par and with half the 156-strong field only just teeing off was one behind Swede Johan Edfors.

Two years ago Willett was the world's No 1 amateur when he played at the Real Club course and in only his second European Tour start fired a third-round 64.

"I think I got to about 10 under that day, but the cameras then came and I got a bit scared,'' he said. "Now it's just a sign that you are doing well.''

After only 11 putts yesterday in a back-nine 35 he had four birdies and a bogey in his last six holes, hitting a nine-iron to four feet on the eighth and two-putting the long ninth.

Edfors, whose three Tour wins all came in 2006, was five adrift of Argentina's Ricardo Gonzalez at only two under overnight, but turned in 32 and then added three more birdies in five holes.

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