Langer seeks rough justice

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The Independent Online
Time was when Colin Montgomerie was in awe of Bernhard Langer, especially when they played together in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in 1991. Yesterday they did not see eye to eye over the way Druids Glen has been set up for the Murphy's Irish Open.

Despite the fact that he hit the leaderboard with a 67, Langer remains unimpressed with the penal rough surrounding the greens. "You can get some horrible lies when you pitch out of that cabbage or whatever you call it," the German said. Cabbage? Sauerkraut would have been a better description.

"If we played on courses like this every week," Langer went on,"you would take chipping and pitching out of the game." When he was reminded that Monty is all in favour of such courses, Langer responded: "He's not in charge."

When the Alamo English Open was held at the Forest of Arden last month, Montgomerie had a say in how the course was prepared and the rough was allowed to grow in an attempt to replicate conditions at the US Open. Yesterday Monty had a curt answer to Langer's complaints.

"The skill in golf," Montgomerie said,"is in hitting every fairway and every green so that you don't have to chip at all. I want players punished from the very first shot they hit." That'll go down well with the Professional Golfers' Association.

Montgomerie's philosophy, of course, is based on the fact that he is one of the straightest drivers in the game. However, when he went off line at the 13th he went to the Druid's Altar like a sacrificial lamb.

The 13th is a cracker, a par-four of 471 yards with a a creek running down the right-hand side at the foot of what looks like the white cliffs of Dover. The drive, in fact, is the easiest part of the hole for the approach shot has to carry a lake and beyond that is a tiny landing area to the green.

Standing on the elevated tee, Monty took out the three wood and caught the ball on the toe of the club. It veered right of the creek and now he was at the cliff face. With a wedge he attempted to play the ball back across the stream to the safety of the fairway. But his left foot slipped and he missed the ball completely. "I went right underneath it and it didn't move at all," he said.

As if the air shot was not bad enough, Monty then thinned his ball into the creek. "So now I'm struggling," he said. He had 220 yards to the flag and he was playing his fifth shot. Finally, he holed from seven feet for a seven. At that point his trusty caddie, Alistair Maclean took his life in his hands by remarking:"If you can win the tournament from here it'll do you the world of good."

Monty, who started the first round at the 10th, had three birdies in a row from the 15th and, although he had another penalty drop at the first, he had three more birdies for a remarkable 69. "It would have been very easy to chuck the towel in," Montgomerie said, "but after missing the cut last week I was in no mood to do it again. It was a delight to play on such a course. There are 18 good holes." And there's the 13th.

On a blustery day, only a handful of players finished under par and one of them was Gary Murphy, the 23 year old former Irish amateur champion from Kilkenny. He got into the championship by sponsor's invitation and, given his name, it was a smart move. Murphy has been scratching a living on the minor Hippo tour in Britain. "It's hard to make money," he said. The other day he was fourth in an event, won pounds 440 and it cost him pounds 150 to enter.

Murphy, who shot a one under par 70, spent two and a half years at Augusta College, Georgia on a golf scholarship. "I got off to a bad start as an amateur," he said. He can say that again. A couple of years ago in Augusta Murphy and his partner Charlie Mulqueen (Cork Examiner) were beaten by Peter Corrigan (Independent on Sunday) and I at the 18th. If you can recover from that, you can recover from anything.

What has sustained Murphy in his fledgling professional career has been the exploits this year of his friend Padraig Harrington, but yesterday Harrington had problems of his own.

The Dubliner was going along swimmingly at level par when he knocked it into the water at the 13th. At the 14th he lost a ball up a tree and offered a spectator a tenner to shake it down. That had officials thumbing through the rule book and finally they decided that because the ball had been moved by an "outside agency", and because Harrington could not replace it 25 feet up the tree, he was allowed to invoke the unplayable ball rule. He did so under a one stroke penalty and took a double-bogey six.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 24