Westwood takes to the wind while Montgomerie fights for Open spot

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The Independent Online

First Colin Montgomerie blanks Sir Alex Ferguson then one of the pacesetters reveals how much he likes wearing skirts. If it was not for Lee Westwood once again turning in a performance befitting the very best in the world then reality would have been a complete stranger on the Castle Stuart links.

Westwood's 65 gave him the joint lead of the Scottish Open with Mark Tullo. As an indication to the Englishman's chances next week at Sandwich it yelled of favouritism. "I couldn't care less if I was favourite," he said. "I wouldn't care if I was 1,000-1. Actually I would as I'd have a few quid on myself."

Westwood would be crushed in the stampede to the bookmakers. Many will still question his major credentials, but they evidently weren't in the Highlands yesterday. Eight birdies, one bogey and any number of shots which proved his suitability to the unique demands of seaside golf. A driver off the fairway to 12 feet on the 12th, a knock-down nine iron from 120 yards into the ninth, a two-iron into the wind on the 18th. "I played great," said Westwood, doing his bit for the bleeding obvious. "I did some nice work on the range last week, working on the ball flight in the wind. I couldn't have hit some of those shots a few weeks ago."

In truth, some of his rivals will never hit those shots, which seems appropriate considering Westwood's lofty world ranking. A win here would move him back into the No 1 spot held by his compatriot Luke Donald. He also fared impressively with a five-under 67. The race to become the first Englishman to take top dog status into the Open in 18 years seems destined to go all the way. What a way for Castle Stuart to begin its tenure as the home of the Scottish Open.

Certainly this opening enthralled as much as it baffled. Montgomerie was one of the central players in a first round which featured every number from one to 10 (Phillip Price having a hole-in-one on the 11th and his fellow Ryder Cupper Ignacio Garrido taking a quintuple bogey on the 12th). The 48-year-old needs at least a top-five finish on Sunday to continue a proud run in the Open Championship which extends back to 1990. A 67 gave the old boy, ranked all the way down in 285th, a fighting chance. It was his lowest score in two years and wasa real pleasure for his home crowd to witness.

Ferguson thought so. The Manchester United manager was in the crowd and was welcomed with a warm handshake when Westwood encountered him on the third. Half an hour later, on the same hole, Ferguson was watching Monty. Alas, he three-putted from 15 feet. You could say the scowl was as familiar as the trudge off the green. Montgomerie walked straight up to Ferguson without a hint of recognition and actually stepped around the Old Trafford legend. A wry smile came across Ferguson's countenance. Had he really been snubbed? "No," said Monty, a Leeds fan. "I didn't see him. I was absolutely focused and in the zone."

In fairness, he had every right to be. He could easily have tied or even bettered Westwood, as he missed a short birdie putt on the fourth (his 13th) and bogeyed the last when driving into trouble on the right. It marred a day which was otherwise startling, considering he matched his playing partner, Donald, ranked 284 places higher than him. "I'm disappointed," said Montgomerie. "I came here for a reason – to qualify for the Open. And I should have pushed ahead today a little bit. I've got to get to 20-under, five-under every day. That's the target."

Otherwise he feels he will be absent when the 140th Open tees off in six days' time. One person who now looks certain to be in the field is Thomas Bjorn, the Dane who so spectacularly blew the Claret Jug when the Open was last in Kent. After a spate of withdrawals, Bjorn is now first reserve, although the five shots he dropped in three holes from the second yesterday will not fill him full of hope of making up for the three shots he took in the 16th bunker when two clear at Sandwich eight years ago.

But that will be next week and this is now and with Tullo up there mighty intriguing it is too. The Chilean has a English father and a Dutch mother "who met at an Irish barbecue". "The funny thing is my Dad says our name is Scottish," said Tullo, after a round featuring 10 birdies. "I do wear skirts once in a while on a couple of crazy nights out so maybe it comes from there." He was told they were called kilts in Scotland. "If I win I will put a kilt on with the Tullo tartan on," he said. It's a nice image. But Westwood has other ideas.