Price leads as Monty goes home with a smile

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The Independent Online

One thing an organiser of a tournament can be fairly sure of when he lures Colin Montgomerie to play is fireworks. Win and there will be an explosion of smiles; lose and there will be an eruption of scowls. So imagine what you would get if the Scot missed his first cut on European soil in almost two years...

Stand back, light the fuse and watch those headlines soar. Well, not quite because Montgomerie left here yesterday pretty safe in the knowledge that he would not be playing in the Wales Open this weekend. However, instead of lashing out in all directions he merely shrugged his shoulders, signed a few autographs and left everyone with that rarest of sights - a smile.

Not that he had much to feel pleased about as his preparations for the US Open in a fortnight's time took an unforeseen turn. A one-under-par 71 sounds all very well on the face of it, but on a beautiful day, surrounded by a mediocre field he should really have swatted away like the midges, his level-par total was not good enough to warrant the appearance money Celtic Manor reportedly paid him.

Again, it was the greens that foiled him as his performance around the rest of the course was as immaculate as ever. "On Thursday I played from tee to green very well but didn't hole anything, nothing at all," Montgomerie said. In desperation he made the two-hour trip back to his home in Surrey to fetch a heavier putter; he should have saved his petrol. "They still didn't go in," he said.

His most agonising miss was a 50-footer for an eagle that lipped out on the 18th which would have meant he would not have to leave early from an European event for the first time since the Lancôme Trophy in 2001. "That was amazing. I don't how that putt stayed out," he said. But out it stayed and although his new caddie, Steve Rawlinson, had cracked enough gags to help Montgomerie achieve one of his main aims of the week - a far cheerier countenance - the Wales Open had lost its biggest draw.

At least they have the local hero Phillip Price handily placed two shots behind the leader Ian Poulter to provide some consolation. A 66 yesterday to go with his 68 on Thursday sent the 36-year-old to 10-under and the home galleries into rapture. Or rather, it would have done if there had been any galleries here.

Six birdies on a bogey-free card were well appreciated by the few hundred who did follow the golfer who lives barely a flick with his driver away in nearby Basseleg. The opening day's attendance of 6,184 was more than 20 per cent down on last year and yesterday the Wentwood Hills course seemed no more densely populated.

On Thursday, Price expressed his surprise at the serenity of the welcome in these particular hillsides. Did the spectators liven up at all yesterday? "A little bit, but not a lot," Price said. "But I am sure that the weekend should be different."

If the crowds do turn out they will find their countryman, who so famously beat Phil Mickelson at last year's Ryder Cup, ready to take their adulation in his purposeful stride. "I don't feel that the pressure is on too much," said this most unassuming of sportsmen. "It is not that a Welshman has never won in the three events here so far, but just trying to win the tournament is the only pressure that I feel."

His clinical approach game yesterday should alleviate much of that tension. A pitching wedge to 12 feet at the par-four third hole earned him his first birdie of the day and a nine iron to three feet another at the par-five fifth. He then parred his way around until a wedge to three feet on the 13th, a nine iron to two feet on the 15th and a sand wedge to 10 feet on the 17th took him to five-under for the day. A two-putt birdie on the par-five 18th finished off the job nicely to stay on Poulter's shoulder, the man who he pipped to the last automatic place for the Ryder Cup.

The 27-year-old Englishman had held the joint lead overnight at seven-under with Australia's Nick O'Hern. A 67 yesterday meant that he could not only breathe easier because he had claimed sole occupancy of the summit, but also because the bout of tonsillitis that had plagued his opening round had started to clear up.

O'Hern, meanwhile, could only shoot level-par to leave him in a large group in fifth place that includes England's Jonathan Lomas, Scotland's Andrew Coltart and another Australian left-hander, Richard Green. Two ahead of them in third place on nine-under is the South African Darren Fitchardt with Zimbabwe's Mark McNulty another shot back in fourth.

Wales open (Celtic Manor) Leading second-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 132 I Poulter 65 67 134 P Price 68 66. 135 D Fichardt (SA) 68 67. 136 M McNulty (Zim) 69 67. 137 R Green (Aus) 67 70, J M Arruti (Sp) 68 69, Nick O'Hern (Aus) 65 72, J Lomas 66 71. A Coltart 68 69, S Luna (Sp) 68 69. 138 D Drysdale 68 70, R Gonzalez (Arg) 67 71, C Rodiles (Sp) 68 70. 139 A Tadini (It) 69 70, P Fowler (Aus) 67 72, F Jacobsen (Swe) 71 68, J Donaldson 68 71, D Howell 70 69.140 S Webster 70 70, M Tunnicliff 70 70, S Lyle 70 70, B Lane 69 71, M Mackenzie 67 73, S Wakefield 69 71, H Bjornstad (Nor) 73 67, I Pyman 73 67, S Struver (Ger) 68 72, S Scahill (NZ) 71 69. Selected: 144 C Montgomerie 73 71; I Woosnam 72 72.