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Montgomeriere discovers his hunger

Colin Montgomerie wore the hungry look of a determined rookie here yesterday as he snapped out of his mood of utter despondency to move into contention at the Wales Open.

Colin Montgomerie wore the hungry look of a determined rookie here yesterday as he snapped out of his mood of utter despondency to move into contention at the Wales Open.

The Scot declared here on Wednesday that it was time to get serious again in the wake of his much-publicised separation from his wife of 14 years, Eimear, and that his next win "would be the most important of my career". It was probably sooner than he dared hope, but yesterday the 40-year-old took a giant step towards this watershed victory with a five-under-par 67 to lie two behind the first-round leader, David Howell.

"I was actually in danger of feeling quite competitive out there today," said Montgomerie after a blemish-free round adorned with five birdies. "I was almost disappointed at the last when I had a 10-footer for a birdie and I missed it - which is a good sign. When you see your name on the leaderboard again it gets your competitive juices flowing."

Montgomerie was quick to point out that "one round does not make a summer", and that the pain of the collapse of his personal life is not yet behind him. "This was just five hours and it was good," he said. "But I've said before that I'm very lucky to have this game to turn to, very lucky to be able to put my heart and soul into the game of golf.

"I felt better coming to this event. Last week at Wentworth was quite difficult because I've got a lot of memories there. I had a good group today, too, which was great. I enjoyed playing with Paul [Lawrie] and Ian [Poulter]. I like people who get on with it and the chat was good, quite light-hearted, which I need at the moment."

The "superb support" from the Welsh galleries also played its part, lifting him from the off as did the two-putt birdie on the 600-yard second. Five pars then followed before an eight-iron to four-foot on the par-four eighth helped him complete the front nine in 34. A wedge to six foot on the 11th continued his run until back-to back birdies on 14th and 15th - where he holed a raking 25-footer - sent his name hurtling up the leaderboard.

"I'm not surprised that I'm in contention so soon after everything I've been through," he said. "This is one thing that I can do. Although I still feel it will take six months."

Howell was similarly impressed with himself after 18 holes when not much went wrong for the 28-year-old from Swindon. "It was one of those days, I hit one bad drive," said Howell whose only bogey came at the par-four sixth. "Other than that it was a case of down the middle, on the green, chances most holes."

Italy's Emanuele Canonica, who together with the young German Marcel Siem is one behind Howell on six under, takes "down the middle, on the green" rather too literally at times when he stands on the tee. And the 33-year-old from Turin was up to his big-hitting tricks again yesterday when sending his drive on the second some 400-yards down the fairway. Not bad for someone who stands 5ft 2in, but who has held the title of tour's longest hitter for five of the last six years.

"Who gave me my power?" said Canonica. "I don't know maybe God has given me it."

Level with Montgomerie lies the Frenchman Christian Cévaër, who had a bitter-sweet day after discovering that time-keepers wait for no golfer, especially the professional, when picking up a £4,000 fine for slow play.

Wales Open (Celtic Manor) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 65 D Howell. 66 M Siem (Ger), E Canonica (It). 67 C Cévaër (Fr), S O'Hara, C Montgomerie. 68 J Moseley (Aus), M Ilonen (Fin), N Sato (Japan), D Carter. 69 M Maritz (SA), S Struver (Ger), P Hanson (Swe), M A Martin (Sp), B Lane, T Levet (Fr), M Tunnicliff, F Andersson (Swe), S Khan, S Kjeldsen (Den), D Lynn, P Casey. 70 W Bennett, G Orr, S Luna (Sp), J Lomas, P O'Malley (Aus), R Coles, M Vibe-Hastrup (Den), P Nyman (Swe), J Kingston (SA), P Baker. Selected: 71 I Woosnam. 72 P Broadhurst. 73 L Westwood.