Monty adrift as rookie swoops on eagle double

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If Colin Montgomerie does not care about missing his second major in succession, then why on earth has European golf being getting itself into such a lather these past few months?

If Colin Montgomerie does not care about missing his second major in succession, then why on earth has European golf being getting itself into such a lather these past few months?

"Big deal," he said with a shrug yesterday after his Irish Open hopes nosedived and all but confirmed that he will not be rising into the world's top 50 in time to qualify for next month's US Open at Pinehurst. "So what?" he added. "I missed the US Open last year and I may miss it again. No problem." And there we were, worrying.

It was left to the young figures of Nick Dougherty and Oliver Wilson to reaffirm that this great game is still about desire, hunger and chasing dreams until you can eventually overhaul them and hurl them into reality.

Dougherty's round of 67 gave him a two-shot lead, but it was the back nine of a fellow Englishman two years his senior which had the galleries here gasping. Boy, did Oliver twist his luck in those 31 shots as he dared to ask this monster for more and duly delivered. Two eagles in three holes, no less, holing a nine iron on the par-four 11th for his first two, and then after a bogey on the 12th, driving the green on the 338-yard 13th to within four feet.

That little patch of deepest purple catapulted the 24-year-old from Mansfield into a tie for second with yet another Englishman, the ever-present David Howell, and although Wilson's bogey on the 17th undid some of the outstanding work that yielded birdies on the 14th, 15th and 18th, at seven-under he is bang in there after his 66 equalled the course record.

"Events sort of just took over on the back half," said Wilson, who still owns a home in the golfing Mecca that is Augusta from his days as a student at a college in the state of Georgia.

"It was weird, very strange, as nothing much was happening and then that holing out came from nowhere. And then another eagle, and then birdies and bogeys, and hardly any pars. In those circumstances, you just have to go with it and see what happens. But that's easier said than done as I have got a lot more to play for out there than most of the other guys who've been there, seen it and done it. Yeah, it's tough."

But not too tough. Last week Wilson won a top-of-the-range Jaguar when he hit his tee shot nearest the pin at the par-three 18th at the Forest of Arden. "I should get it next week and I'm definitely keeping it," he said. "At the moment I'm driving around in my mum's old car. She'll be glad to get it back."

He might even be able to afford to buy her a new one, if he can land the £230,000 first prize for his debut Tour victory today. To do so, he will somehow have to venture past another former Walker Cup player in Dougherty who enjoyed the intermittent downpours yesterday more than he ever has.

"It shined all day for me," he said. Well, at least until he reached the scorer's hut and watched the FA Cup final penalty shoot-out while signing his card. "I'm gutted because although I'm a proud Liverpudlian, I must admit that I do support Manchester United," he said, before revealing that he fends off criticism from his home-city mates with a well-rehearsed answer. "When they ask me 'are you a red?', I say 'yep' because I am."

If only Paul Scholes had had his fan's aim then it might have been an afternoon for the reds all round as Dougherty moved even further into the scarlet zone with six birdies.

Only his two countrymen are within three shots of him, although he has not discounted the two Irishmen, Dublin's Padraig Harrington, on three under, and Ulster's Darren Clarke, one further back, from becoming the first home winner here in 23 years. "Both have the game to go low enough to get into contention," Dougherty said.

In contrast, Montgomerie's 75 left him haplessly adrift at three over par, and unless the Scot can win at Wentworth next week he will be taking his place in qualifying for the US Open at Walton Heath a fortnight tomorrow. If he can shake off the highly uncharacteristic indifference he blurted out yesterday, that is.

The 41-year-old has a fine record at the Surrey course, and if his putter does at last decide to behave itself then his chances of an emotional success are not as forlorn as they might seem.

But it won't be simply a case of keeping his putting demons quiet, as on the eve of the BMW Championship (the old PGA) there are more than a few voices that are determined to be heard at the annual players' meeting.

The dissent will inevitably concern that damned subject that continues to haunt Monty - the drop at the Indonesian Open in March that he has since confessed was erroneous. A source who would not be named - the players are gripped by paranoia about pointing the accusatory finger that could, conceivably, forever tarnish one of Europe's most illustrious careers - outlined the furore lying in wait.

"Monty hopes that the matter's been put to bed and that the fact he was cleared by the committee the other week was an end to it. But a number of the boys are still very uncomfortable about it all and want a satisfactory answer - and quickly. It could be very tasty indeed down at Wentworth."

Maybe so, but Monty for one is certainly not licking his lips at the prospect.

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