Price's putting mastery upstages Montgomerie

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The Independent Online

Colin Montgomerie needs a miracle over the next three days if he is to win the European Order of Merit for the eighth successive time. It is not likely to happen unless the Scotsman can find a quick solution to the putting problems that have plagued him all year.

Colin Montgomerie needs a miracle over the next three days if he is to win the European Order of Merit for the eighth successive time. It is not likely to happen unless the Scotsman can find a quick solution to the putting problems that have plagued him all year.

Poor play on the greens saw Montgomerie return a three over par 75 in the American Express Championship here yesterday. He is 12 shots off the lead held by Zimbabwe's Nick Price, who shot a nine under par 63. Padraig Harrington is in second place after a six under par 66, while Andrew Coltart holds third place on five under after a 67.

Montgomerie is in sixth place on the Order of Merit, and has to win this event to have any chance of becoming the European No 1 for the eighth straight year. Darren Clarke currently holds that spot, Lee Westwood is in second place, while Ernie Els, Thomas Bjorn and Michael Campbell hold the third, fourth and fifth places respectively. Els is out of the race after withdrawing from the tournament after nine holes with a bad back.

Montgomerie claimed to know the course better than any player in the field before the event started. It did not look that way yesterday, especially on the slick greens. "I'm quite happy with the way I played," he said afterwards. "I putted poorly. I had one single putt on the 10th. I holed a putt for birdie to go one under and then took four on the 17th, and two on every other hole. That's 37 [putts]. Far too many."

Fortunately for Montgomerie Darren Clarke was only one shot ahead after a two-over par 74. Westwood returned a level-par 72. He needs to win at least £63,000 more than Clarke this week to win the Order of Merit. Westwood was not happy with his round but feels there is still everything to play for. "I'm not completely out of it, that's about it," Westwood said. "Let's face it, I need to finish top five at worst. Seventy two is not out of it at all."

Like Montgomerie, Clarke also felt he had not actually played that poorly. He said the tough Valderrama course just got the better of him. "I hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens and had a lot of good putts," he said. "I shot 74 but I haven't hit the ball that badly. It's just Valderrama. It's difficult, and sometimes it doesn't give you the results you are after."

Tiger Woods was expected to lead from the front yesterday, but instead was upstaged by Nick Price. The defending champion returned a one-under par 71 courtesy of five birdies and four bogeys. At 43, Price is the fourth oldest man in field, but yesterday he looked 20 years younger. Price had 11 birdies in one round. A change to his putting stroke means the three-time major winner is performing better on the greens than he has done in years. "My putting has turned around," Price said. "I'm on the right track now. I know I am going to have poor putting days, but I think, generally speaking, I'm probably going to putt a little better, a lot more consistent than I have done."

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Valderrama) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 63 N Price (Zim); 66 P Harrington; 67 S Hoch, A Coltart; 68 F Langham (US), C Perry (US), M Weir (Can); 69 C Franco (Par), N Henning (SA), R Allenby (Aus), S Garcia (Sp), R Goosen (SA); 70 J Coceres (Arg), D Waldorf (US), P McGinley, JM Olazabal (Sp), T Bjorn (Den), D Toms. Selected: 71 G Orr, R Mediate (US), S Flesch (US), T Woods (US), V Singh (Fij); 72 J Leonard (US), L Westwood, M Calcavecchia (US), J Parnevik (Swe); 73 D Clarke; 75 B Langer (Ger), P Fulke (Swe), C Montgomerie. Retired: E Els (SA).

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