Montgomerie under pressure as US Open prospects slide

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The Independent Online

Who says Colin Montgomerie has more faces than his set of Callaways? On Saturday he was telling anyone who cared to listen that he did not really give a damn whether he qualified for next month's US Open or not, while yesterday he was back to it being a life-or-death situation.

"Every position I've gained today is a world point nearer the top 50," the Montgomerie said after his 70, for a one-over par total, at least saw him rise a few places before a storm-delay hit the final round of the Irish Open. "I suppose I'll just hold my position of 54th then I'll hope for a top five next week to get into the top 50 and avoid pre-qualifying at Walton Heath."

Stirring stuff, even if the smile that stretched from ear to ear as he jetted back to London last night belied the tension he must have been feeling at the start of a week that could well represent a whole lot more than simply gaining a place in his favourite major.

The annual players' meeting on the eve of the BMW Championship is promising to drag up that infamous incident in Indonesia in March when Montgomerie was captured on video taking a drop in an advantageous position.

Montgomerie had hoped the matter was laid to rest when he donated the £24,000 he won that week to charity, especially when he was subsequently cleared at a players' meeting at the Forest of Arden two weeks ago. The committee did express their "dissatisfaction", but felt it was unable to prove any intentional wrong-doing.

However, that verdict has not assuaged a number of European Tour professionals and an influential quorum are known to be determined that the incident is brought up again at Wentworth.

In the light of that, therefore, Montgomerie's good mood was admirable, if not odd, although the Carton House course, which he designed and was having its first professional airing, was an obvious source of personal pride - in spite of a number of his colleagues banging on his door last week.

"Yeah, it was a difficult week for me, having to worry about other players, tee-markers, signage and all that," the Scot said. "In fact, it's been the first time I've ever felt sorry for players in bunkers and sorry for fellow competitors. Some came to me and said the course was tough but I make no apologies for that. I think it's a good test of golf."

Nick Dougherty would have nodded his shaking head at that as the two-shot overnight lead he held was whittled away by Stephen Dodd in the opening six holes after play resumed. The confidence the 22-year-old had expressed on Saturday night after his third-round 67 had taken him to nine under - two ahead of his fellow Englishmen David Howell and Oliver Wilson - was looking well-placed when his first hole was dispatched with a nonchalant birdie.

But by the fifth, the Liverpudlian had been transformed into a decidedly uneasy leader as he four-putted from the edge of the green for a double-bogey sixth. The next hole brought yet more anxiety, after Dougherty managed to move his ball two miserable feet in the rough on the right side of the fairway and, in the circumstances, he was probably mighty relieved to be level.

Fortunately for Dougherty, Howell and Wilson had both also found trouble and now his main rival was Steven Dodd. The quiet Welshman, who collected his first Tour title in China earlier this season, picked up birdies on the second and the fourth and even though a bogey on the fifth - which was proving to be an absolute monster for the majority of the field as the rain poured down - derailed his charge somewhat, a further birdie at the par-five 8th took him to seven under and into a tie with Dougherty.

Suddenly, it was wide open again and Dougherty and Dodd did not only have to worry about each other and the players around them, but also had a score in the clubhouse to fret over.

Australia's Nick O'Hern has never won a professional tournament in a highly lucrative career. However, six birdies in a blemish-free, course-record equalling round of 66, shot the left-hander up to six under. And with the weather doing its damnedest, that was starting to appear more than a decent total.

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