Winged Monty runs into major snag

Scot spends two glorious days winding clock back to the Nineties ­ then the old doubts resurface
Click to follow

The early stages of the third round of the US Open here were not so much characterised by a march of the Europeans as a veritable stampede. The harsh realities of Winged Foot make dreaming inadvisable but still it was almost impossible not to start thinking of a winner decked in a flag of blue and gold stars this evening filling the void back to Tony Jacklin's win in 1970.

Colin Montgomerie's start, however, showed how deep the Winged Foot talons can dig. Starting in the final grouping of the "world's toughest major" for the first time since 1997, Montgomerie dropped five shots in the first four holes. He found the thick stuff off the first tee, meaning he had no chance of going for the green in two, and the same thing happened on the second and fourth when taking similar fives.

But it was what came to pass on the third which best summed up his catastrophic beginnings. The 234-yard par three is famous for the 1959 champion, Billy Casper, electing to lay up on each of the four days. Within five whacks Monty knew exactly why. His two-iron was hoiked into the cabbage on the left, from there he could only hack it into the bunker 10 yards in front of him, and although he continued his sparkling form out of the sand with a quite sensational blast to six feet, he missed the putt.

Thank goodness, then, for Kenny Ferrie, who has also been called some uncharitable names in his short but active tenure as a professional. A month ago at the Irish Open, for instance, the two-time European Tour winner dared question Paul McGinley's stainless integrity in a nasty rules rumpus and afterwards, very contritely, he promised he would keep a lid on it and henceforth let his game do the talking.

When he eagled the fifth it was fairly screaming as the 27-year-old from Ashington, playing in his first US Open, was on one under and in a tie for the lead with Steve Stricker.

If anything his saved par on the sixth was even more commendable having located a horrid lie in the "primary" rough on the right of the fairway, chopping out but then nervelessly hitting his approach to five feet and holing out.

A deft chip to the hole's side on the par-three seventh also hinted at this young Ryder Cup hopeful's underrated qualities, which were sure to be put under the closest scrutiny on the drying back nine.

At least he had a few Europeans for company. There was Ireland's Padraig Harrington two back on one over, and from north of the border came Graeme McDowell on two over. When Ian Poulter's showing on three over (two under for the day after his own eagle on the fifth) was also taken into consideration there were four Europeans in top eight. And better still ­ from a pathetically parochial point of view, of course ­ there were "only" three Americans.

Mind you, one of them was Phil Mickelson and although the world No 2 was having to use every trick in that magical bag of his to retain his overnight score of three over, his proximity to the top was pretty ominous what with the two major titles he already has in his possession and the raucous New York crowd behind him.

History is also propelling the 36-year-old as he aims to become only the third player to win three majors on the bounce and so join Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan. The former's absence this weekend, having missed his first cut in a major as a professional, only added to Mickelson's favouritism as the field turned for what was inevitable to be a crucial back nine.

The Swede Peter Hedblom displayed how treacherous it could be as he saw three dropped shots in five holes from the 12th dull some of the lustre he gained from his first six holes. With the tee pushed back to the brink of eye-squinting range, players on the third tee were more likely to think of bogeys than aces. But with a swish of his three-iron and a fortuitous bounce, his ball was hole-bound and he was down to four over.

Two holes later, another two strokes were subtracted from his score when he took one of the eagles that the fifth was generously offering up. Despite slipping back later to six over with two remaining, he was in contention and justifying David Howell's words that anything was possible on this course.

The world No 9 struggled to a 74 to lie at 12 over, which does not seem too disastrous on a quick peer down the scoreboard but palpably does when it is remembered that Howell was four under through his first 12 holes on Thursday.

"All in all it's such a bizarre tournament there is not much you can take from it," he said. Meanwhile, out on the course the contrasting fortunes of Ferrie and Montgomerie were signifying just how bizarre.