Montgomerie stakes claim for eighth title

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The Independent Online

In the normal course of events, Michael Campbell's one-over 72 would be no disaster, except this was no normal event. Indeed, as the two protagonists in the most exciting finish to a season in years went out in the last group, there was a distinctly surreal feel to the first round of the Volvo Masters and a pairing that was matchplay in everything but classification.

"It was difficult not to play the person out there today," said Montgomerie, "but I'm here to win the Volvo Masters and not just the Order of Merit."

His round of four-under has put him in position to do just that as he shares the lead with the defending champion, Ian Poulter, with one shot back, on an absolute sponsor's dream of a leaderboard, to High Wycombe's Luke Donald and two magical Spaniards in Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal.

On this form, however, they will all have to conjure something special to keep Montgomerie in sight, especially as he announced last night: "I am hitting the ball further, straighter and better than I ever have."

The bare evidence of his card suggested that the eagle two on the par-four eighth, when he holed a wedge from 111 yards, was the defining moment of another red-numbered day, although the 42-year-old insisted it was a birdie down the first that was more crucial.

So nervous before his afternoon tee-off, Montgomerie listened to Coldplay's "X&Y" CD to calm him down and it worked. Perhaps it was the track "Low" that inspired his scoring pattern?

"I've been really anxious about this tournament for the last three or four days," he said, recalling how the "I-can-almost-touch-it" pressure of having a near £105,000 lead over the New Zealander took its toll.

"I got rid of that in the first three holes and I'm really proud of that. You know, two-under through those holes is one terrific start. I hit the ball exactly where I wanted to today."

Well, that is not exactly true. At the fifth he drove into a bunker with a tree directly in front of it - "that was a good bogey from there" - and at the aforementioned eighth the Scot actually hit it a yard further but it spun back into the hole. "Lucky?" he said. "Yeah, I guess. But then, they always are when they go in from the fairway."

To Campbell, who was just two behind at the time, it must have felt anything but "lucky" as he was suddenly four behind. "It was hard remembering it was strokeplay," he confessed. "I was thinking of picking my ball up on a couple of occasions." The US Open champion managed to claw it back to three, until the last where his bogey elicited another two-shot swing.

Montgomerie was not admitting it, of course, but his eight-footer for his fifth birdie all but made a two-horse race a walkover as Campbell must finish first or second or elsewhere in the top five and hope the seven-times champion blows up. Highly unlikely.

"Don't you believe it?" maintained Montgomerie. "Anybody can lose five shots in two shots around here. Anybody." Not Poulter. According to him, anyway. "I've got no other option but to win this week," said the 29-year-old, who is determined to continue the streak that has seen him win in each of his five years as a Tour professional.

"It is there for the taking and I will do it, I have to do it." A cocky little so-and-so or an arrogant show-off? Valderrama is as yet undecided.

* Sri Lanka's Anura Rohana took the lead after yesterday's first round of the Indian Open in New Delhi after an eight-under-par 64.