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Montgomerie kicks up storm of his own

Scot feels his national Open is being devalued after heavy showers reduce event to 54 holes

On a bleak day on the banks of the Moray Firth, with play at the Scottish Open suspended because of lightning and a series of torrential downpours, Colin Montgomerie decided to cause a storm of his own.

The Scot was angry to hear that rather than extend play into tomorrow and disrupt the travel plans of some of the world's top golfers heading for this week's Open Championship at Royal St George's in Kent, the tournament had been cut back to a three-round 54-hole affair.

That, he said, was an affront to the prestige of his country's nationalchampionship which he insisted is one of the most important on the European Tour's annual calendar.

The decision had been taken by Mike Stewart, the tournament director and his team, because of a forecast for more poor weather in north-east Scotland today, leaving tomorrow morning free as a last resort for the completion of the third round should it be required.

Montgomerie had originally accepted the decision with grace because he believed that, as in previous years, some of the lesser players would be spending tomorrow at a Final Qualifying venue in Kent trying to clinch an 11th-hour place in The Open.

However, when he was told that the Open's organisers, the Royal and Ancient, had altered their qualifying programme this year, holding the final stage last week, his tune quickly changed.

"The fact that the players are competing for a £500,000 first prize shows how big this event is," he said. "And it should be played out over 72 holes – that would still allow those competing in The Open Championship to get down to it on Monday afternoon or Monday night.

"Obviously, the Tour has been in touch with the sponsors Barclays and they've okayed reducing the event to 54 holes. But you would think if the BellSouth Classic in America can go over into the Monday of the Masters week, then The Scottish Open can do it. There is no doubt this event should be 72 holes."

On a more personal note Montgomerie also fancies the four-round format because it would give him the best opportunity to clinch the one remaining place at Sandwich available to any player, not already exempt, finishing in the top five.

When play was suspended on Friday night Montgomerie, who has not missed an Open for 21 years, was six under par with nine holes of his second round left. He felt he needed as many holes as possible to make up the five-shot deficit on the three joint leaders who included another Scotsman, Scott Jamieson, who has also yet to qualify for The Open.

Monty's outburst will have only added to the headaches of the European Tour officials who spent yesterday trying to rescue the tournament during 24 hours in which torrential showers swept over the Castle Stuart course, at one stage dropping three inches in just two hours.

Stewart and his team of workers arrived at the course just after dawn yesterday morning, hoping to restart play at 7am only to find scenes of utter devastation. On the steep grassy banks lining four of the fairways there had been landslides and although they could be repaired with diggers, the authorities had good reason to fear for the thousands of spectators they were expecting. On Friday two golf fans had been taken to hospital with broken legs after slipping on the slopes and for today's play several holes will be closed to onlookers.

Many of the fairways were flooded,though with a sandy base there was confidence they would drain quickly. But a tournament is not just about the course, and the damage to the facilities laid on for players and their followers was also extensive.

Both public car parks were under water along with the turning circle for buses bringing golf fans from nearby Inverness. And the temporary building constructed to provide the players and caddies with changing and dining facilities had to be closed. It had been built upon foundations of sand and stone, parts of which were simply washed away by the rain and engineers had to be called in to reinforce the structure with concrete blocks.

"It was an absolute deluge over such a short space of time that it is not something that is normal," said Stewart.

However, he also spent some time during the day casting envious glances east along the Moray Firth to Nairn only eight miles away, where the town's historic links was open for members to play as their course had completely missed the band of heaviest rain that swept over Castle Stuart during Friday night.