Colin Montgomerie was just where he wanted to be here yesterday on his 500th European Tour appearance as a professional – right at the top of the leader board. Europe's new Ryder Cup captain, with only three top 10 finishes to his name since the start of last season, returned a five-under-par 67 to lead the Andalucian Open with fellow Scot Steven O'Hara and France's Jean-François Lucquin.
Montgomerie, now a lowly 137th in the world and with no hope of qualifying for the Masters in two weeks, was presented with a cake on Wednesday and an ice bucket yesterday to mark his achievement. For a while the hole must have looked as big as the bucket. After four birdies in his first six holes he ran up a six on the long 16th after going in the water, but then converted chances of 15 and 30 feet at the 18th and first.
An 18-footer also went in for par at the 451-yard second and after a second bogey two holes later he holed from the same distance at the fifth and parred in. "The best gift was that 67," he said. "That's three tournaments in a row with a 67. Things are looking up. People say that being Ryder Cup captain will hurt my game, but I think exactly the opposite. I've been looking for ways to relax on the course and I think I've found it. It was a very nostalgic round. I was thinking about all sorts of things – my three PGA wins, eight Order of Merits, how far I've walked [all the way to Hong Kong] and being Ryder Cup captain. I've thought about that every minute of every day since I was appointed."
Montgomerie is the 18th player to have reached 500 tournaments on the circuit and of special pride to him is that in 182 of them he notched top 10 finishes. The last was his second place to Pablo Larrazabal at last June's French Open, but he said: "I'd like to get to 200. I'm busier than ever, but I'm still competitive enough to be able to contend."
O'Hara, a former Walker Cup player, came storming through at the end, making birdie at 15th, eagle at 16 and then a closing birdie. Lucquin is the player who beat Rory McIlroy in a play-off for the European Masters last September. It looks an even better win now considering what progress the Northern Ireland teenager has made.
*Seve Ballesteros is to undergo a fourth round of chemotherapy as he continues treatment for brain cancer. The 51-year-old Spaniard, a five-time major winner, had four brain operations to remove a tumor in October.