Monty on the march once again

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The Independent Online

There has been a beastly concert here this week as the peacocks, gibbons and other creatures of the adjacent Fota Wildlife Park have cleared their throats each day. But yesterday it was the turn of the biggest animal in the jungle, as Colin Montgomerie roared his return with an opening 63 in the Irish Open.

There were six birdies and two eagles as the Scot established an opening-round record in this tournament, a round he said was his best for four years.

Compulsive viewing for Montgomerie over the last few months has been the video of the US Open at Congressional in 1997. It was there he shot another crushing early salvo, an opening 65 he considers the best round of his career. That, however, was followed by a cataclysmic 76 and, though Monty clawed his way back with two sub-70 rounds, Ernie Els was still a shot ahead at the end.

"I look on that as the time I lost a major," Montgomerie said, "but I do try to emulate [some of it] and that is the stage I am trying to get to. Last night [on the practice ground] I found it [the key]."

The Montgomerie video has been edited to 50 minutes. It contains neither footage of anyone else nor much of the second round. But it does include the secret of the Scot's best address. "There has been something wrong with the set-up and so something changed with the backswing," he said. "Two negatives were trying to make a positive and I don't like that.

"Today I felt very confident. I felt for the first time in a long time that I could see myself making birdies and then more birdies. Today I wanted to go on and on. I didn't want to stop."

Another roar always welcome to Montgomerie has been that of the Celtic tiger gallery. He feels he plays his better golf in Scotland and especially over here, where he has won this tournament twice, and been second and fourth, both twice.

He was cheered around Fota Island even as he closed in on the lead of Ireland's Eamonn Darcy, who shot a 65, the same as Frederik Henge of Sweden.

Darcy, who will be 50 next year, would be the oldest Tour winner ever if the bones hold out until Sunday, but there are other things on his mind. One is the thought of a new career with men of his own age and older, another the compensations after a hard day at work.

"I just go out and play nowadays. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't," he said. "I just go home and enjoy being with my new wife. One way or another I can't lose. I am just really biding my time for another year. I would certainly have a think about America [and the Seniors Tour]."

Henge was the recipient of some late but invaluable advice before he set out. The Swede's girlfriend, Jenny, does not play golf, but not only is she his caddy she also took it upon herself to suggest changes in her player's technique. Her presence improved both his performance and behaviour.

"When you have your girlfriend on your bag I can't be very mad on the course," Henge said. "I have to be very positive otherwise she will walk away and I don't want that to happen."

MURPHY'S IRISH OPEN (Fota Island, Cork) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 63 C Montgomerie. 65 E Darcy, F Henge (Swe). 66 H Bjornstad (Nor), T Bjorn (Den), G Evans. 67 M Scarpa (It), P Harrington, J Senden (Aus), S Struver (Ger), J Bickerton, A Wall, A Coltart, D Robertson, S Webster. 68 D Howell, A Scott (Aus), S Lyle, N Fasth (Swe), E Simsek (Ger), *C Moriarty, C Pettersson (Swe), B Lane, G Emerson, T Levet (Fr), R Jacquelin (Fr), G Brand Jnr, I Garrido (Sp), J Berendt (Arg). 69 J-F Remesy (Fr), S Kjeldsen (Den), J M Olazabal (Sp), J Dwyer, S Dodd, M Reale (It), M A Martin (Sp), G Havret (Fr), I Poulter, P McGinley, M Lundberg (Swe) P Casey, N Colsaerts (Bel). 70 S Dyson, A Beal, C Pottier (Fr), D Lee, A Cejka (Ger), R Green (Aus), D Clarke, C Rocca (It), J Rose, R Chapman, D McGrane, B Rumford (Aus), *Z Scotland, T Gogele (Ger), G Rankin, R Ballesteros (Sp), I Garbutt, J Moseley (Aus), F Jacobson (Swe).

* denotes amateur