Monty putts the wrongs right

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The Independent Online

With the first major of the year fast approaching, the BellSouth Classic suffers from its proximity to the Masters. There is serious business close at hand but there is also an air of informality at this tournament. At least there is about the "Quiet please" boards held up by the marshals which here read: "Hush y'all." Keeping the crowds in the States hushed up is not always easy, as Colin Montgomerie knows to his cost.

But when the gallery at the 16th hole erupted yesterday afternoon, the Scot beamed with joy. Montgomerie holed in one at the 172-yard par-three, his eight-iron pitching just over the bunker guarding the front of the green and then rolling irresistibly into the cup. Having just holed a 22-footer at the previous hole, Montgomerie briefly jumped on to the third-round leaderboard, but then a bogey at the 17th left him at seven under after a round of 70.

Monty was almost more pleased about making a 10-foot putt at the last for a par, after going in the water with his second at the par-five, than not having to putt at the 16th. "There is always a bit of luck," he said of what was his eighth hole-in-one. "It was on line but it was a matter of distance. It pitched in the fringe which was the only way to stop it going down that hill."

Having now committed to the "belly putter", with a slightly longer shaft that can be anchored in the stomach, Montgomerie believes his putting is coming round. "That putt at the last is one of those I don't usually hole," he said. "It was very quick and it was a great one to hole. My stroke is now dramatically different since Fred Couples showed me how to use this putter." Gradually, Montgomerie is making progress towards rediscovering some decent form.

Last week in Houston, where – as at the Players' – he only just made the cut, the Scot had with him his sports psychologist, Hugh Mantle, who rarely travels to tournaments. "He was out with me for company as much as anything else but we did a lot of work. My game is slowly coming around, but I need to be patient. A 70 today was very good with the greens so fast."

All the Europeans playing here and at Augusta made the cut, Padraig Harrington trailing by one after 36 holes to the joint leaders Phil Mickelson and Steve Elkington.

Lee Westwood's third round of 71, to be three under for the tournament, was much the same story as the rest of his week: good but could have been better. Of the par-fives he birdied only the fourth despite being near the green in two at the other three but failing to get up and down.

For the week, he was only one under for the par-fives. "I have probably left nine shots out there on the 12 par-fives I have played so far," Westwood said. "Those are the little things that go against you when you have played as poorly as I have. You have to earn the luck by playing well, swinging well and getting into contention.

"But it has been a positive week for me," added the Worksop man. "I am driving it quite long and quite straight and my bunker shots have been fantastic. It is nice not to have the six-inch rough around the greens, which brings a variety of chips shots into play and is good preparation for next week. The greens are getting fast, too, so it is good practice at dribbling those five and six footers."

Westwood is still working to recover from a poor 2002 season, when he took a lot of time off for the birth of his son, including missing the Masters.

"It's two years since I have been to Augusta and I'm looking forward to going back. I had a good reason for missing it last year."