Over the years Colin Montgomerie and Ian Poulter have had their differences, had their ding-dongs, had their words. Yet at least they are agreed on one incontrovertible truth – that a good Saturday in Paris does absolute wonders for one's sense of well-being.
Indeed, Monty has not enjoyed many days such as this in a long, long while. The 46-year-old came into the French Open not having enjoyed a top-10 finish in a whole year. But here he was looking just like the resurgent veteran who came second last year. Perhaps we are not witnessing Monty's last tango, after all.
A 65 certainly suggested there could be a bit more to come before he slouches off into the sunset. This six-under spectacular was the best round of the third day and hauled him up 51 places to the brink of the top 10, six behind the leader, Rafa Echenique. Inevitably, he was in one of his chattier moods and was even prepared to send out a "don't write me off for Turnberry" message.
"God no – I was eighth there in 1994 and The Open gives me my best opportunity if it's fast-running," said Montgomerie, before reflecting what a huge part this year's venue had played in the formation of his illustrious career. Not only does he have his academy there but before he became a professional he actually went to the Ayrshire golfing complex for an interview for a job with IMG.
While there, the young man ventured out on to the Ailsa Course, shot a back-nine 29 and decided there and then that he should be managed by IMG and not work for them. "If I'd shot 39 that day then who knows?" laughed the man who went on to win eight Order of Merits.
There have been rather too many 39s of late and his relief at finally firing a score which lives up to his standing was understandable. "That's what I used to do," he said, after signing a scorecard containing four birdies, no bogeys and a holed wedge from 100 yards for an eagle on the sixth. "This was a very important round for me going forward and I've just got to keep at it, hoping it will come back one day."
Poulter was not nearly so desperate for a sub-par round. The Englishman has been on an upward curve since his second-place finish in last year's Open at Birkdale and arrived at Le Golf National commanding his highest position in the world rankings to date; No 16. Every week seems to bring yet more reminders that here is a big-time performer and this immaculately controlled 66 – which put him one clear of Montgomerie – was mere confirmation of his standing. Afterwards the 33-year-old was keen to point out how far he has travelled since Turnberry last hosted the Claret Jug.
The year was 1994 and the 18-year-old, a four-handicapper, had recently decided to leave the amateur ranks to work as an assistant pro at the Jack O'Legs club in Hitchin. Recalled Poulter: "That Open would have been on TV and I would have been polishing the pro shop thinking, 'Get me out of here – surely this tin of Pledge is going to run out sooner or later'."
Poulter does not expect his good form to be flashing empty any time soon. "I played pure today; 14 out of 14 fairways and 18 out of 18 greens – I can't remember the last time I did that," he said. "I'll need some more of that tomorrow."
In truth, Monty and Poulter probably do need a replication of yesterday's heroics if either is to pocket the £570,000 first prize. Blocking their progress to the top are some redoubtable figures including Lee Westwood, on seven-under after a 70, and Martin Kaymer, on 10-under following a 69. And then there is the Argentinian one ahead of the German. Last Sunday in Munich, Echenique finished birdie-albatross to scare the life out of the eventual winner, Nick Dougherty. What he would give for a climax like that today.
Tip of the week
No 8: curing the yips
Those dreaded two-footers. The longer you look at them the further they seem, and the smaller the hole appears. The key to stopping the yips is all in your dominant hand. Most right-handed golfers try everything possible to stop their right hand working in their stroke. They end up blocking, and holding off the putter face, which adds loft and misses putts left and right. Practise hitting putts with your dominant hand, holding the putter as light as possible. You'll probably twitch it all over the place to start, but with persistence you'll feel the forearm and hand remain in unison with just a small release from the hand through impact. But most importantly it will feel smooth.
Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey www.theshortgame.co.ukReuse content