Monty in command as Woods closes gap

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The Independent Online

A British leader at the 130th Open Championship brought out a crowd of 41,500 and while a few drifted away to catch the world No 1, Tiger Woods, most were there to cheer the every shot and putt of Colin Montgomerie. The ovation was longest and loudest at the 18th, where the Scot did what he does best and sent a drive far down the middle of the fairway, followed by an approach over the flag to five feet.

A sigh accompanied the missed birdie chance but, with a 70, Montgomerie maintained his lead at seven under, albeit the margin was cut from three to one. Pierre Fulke chose this day to regain his form with a 67 and will partner the Scot in the final twoball this afternoon.

The Swede, unlike Monty, lives in Scotland and although Sam Torrance will be encouraged by the form of the player who qualified for the Ryder Cup team in January with a second place in the World Matchplay in Melbourne, there is no doubting who will get the support today.

"The reception I have had over the last two days has been incredible," Montgomerie said. "The are helping a lot. It's great to feel people willing your ball into the hole." The trio of Britain's Greg Owen, Jesper Parnevik, of Sweden, and the American Joe Ogilvie, all of whom had 68s, are at five under, while Tiger Woods, without being at his best, made ominous progress with a 68 to get to three under par.

Montgomerie did not get off to the flying start of the previous day, dropping a shot at the third after pushing his drive into the trees. It could have been worse and he did well not to be distracted either by Stuart Appleby's triple-bogey at the same hole or by Fred Couples taking bogeys at each of the first four.

He made up the shot at the first of the par fives, the sixth, and though his putts did not drop as consistently as the day before, he was not without luck. He ricocheted out of the crowd on the next and skipped over a bunker at the 11th to set up another birdie. His third arrived with a five-footer at the 13th to briefly restore a three-shot lead, but he drove into a bunker at the 15th for a second bogey.

To follow up a low round is never easy. His main aim was to avoid anything like the disastrous second round of 76 at the 1997 US Open, one of his many near misses in the majors. If it proved a long, tiring day, "watching the leaderboards and what everyone was doing", at least it was a vast improvement on his usual Friday task at the Open of trying to make the cut: often a forlorn enterprise.

For once he will get a lie-in this morning, and the 38-year-old has the recent experience of winning the Irish Open "wire-to-wire". "This is a bit different," Monty said. "This is new territory for me in the Open but I feel I am playing well enough and I'm keeping my emotions intact. There are 14 more miles to go but I feel quite comfortable at this stage."

Woods was able to say much the same. He had birdies at each of the par fives, having not had one at the long holes on Thursday, and holed from 35 feet at the 14th for another despite having blocked his drive into the long grass. His only dropped shot came at the next, when he was in the jungle again and put his third into a bunker. "It's good to be in contention at the weekend," Woods said. "I hit the ball more crisply today. Colin is a great player. His US Open record is self-evident. This course is very demanding off the tee and so sits very well for him."

Montgomerie said of Tiger: "I am happy he is behind me. I'll be even happier if he is behind me on Sunday." With hardly any wind, and especially in the morning sunshine, conditions seemed perfect for players to attack the course. But low scores were still scarce, perhaps because a number of pins were tucked into awkward spots, although Des Smyth, who at 48 became the oldest winner on the European Tour in March, matched Monty's 65 of Thursday.

With Montgomerie early dropped shot, Owen suddenly led the Open at six under after holing from 15 feet at the 17th. As he walked off the last tee, the 29-year-old from Mansfield spotted the main scoreboard on top of the grandstands being rearranged. "I said to my caddie, Rich, 'We're leading the British Open'," Owen said. "He laughed and it sent shivers down my spine."

Owen is in his fourth year on the European Tour, with this only his third appearance in the Open. "Did I think I would be in this position? No, not a chance. Making the cut was the thing," said the player managed by the sports entrepreneur Barry Hearn. Despite finding the rough at the last, he put his second on to the green, but after a long first putt, missed his four-footer for par.

"You won't normally see me smiling after a three-putt but I am now," Owen said. He qualified for the Open by finishing 11th in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond and gaining one of the eight spots available for those not already exempt. The same system works at the Western Open on the US Tour, where Ogilvie got the last place after holing a 25-footer for a par on the last hole.

He led at seven under after his fifth birdie of the day on the 13th, but then dropped shots at the 15th and 17th. An economics graduate who follows the stock market closely, he started the week at 500-1 but was down to 150-1 when a friend invested £30 on Tuesday. He put the fall in price down to punters betting on him when they meant to back the Australian Geoff Ogilvy, a distant relative of Sir Angus Ogilvy.

As the more experienced Ogilvy missed the cut, it might prove to be a fortunate mistake. Other more grand names will not be around for the weekend, including Nick Faldo, for only the second time at an Open, and the Lytham champions, Tony Jacklin, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Lehman, Gary Player and Bob Charles. The last has now swung his clubs for the last time at the Open, and Player probably has too.

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