Montgomerie in fine fettle

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Colin Montgomerie is in the best form of his life as he attempts to win his first major at the US Masters, which starts on Thursday week. He goes to Augusta buoyed by finishing joint second in the Tournament Players Championship in Florida in his first appearance on the US Tour this year.

Montgomerie finished four shots behind Fred Couples at Sawgrass as the American shot the best-ever closing round in the tournament, an eight- under-par 64 - but Ladbrokes were sufficiently impressed to make him a 12-1 joint favourite to win the Masters.

"It was unfortunate that I got into a position to win and didn't do it, but finishing second here is confidence-boosting," Montgomerie said. "I'm playing well enough to win anywhere, including Augusta, I know that."

Montgomerie's chance of victory in Florida disappeared at the notorious 16th. His approach with a fairway wood landed in the water less than an hour after Couples had got a fortunate bounce off the bank of the lake and on to the green that enabled him to hole a long putt for an eagle that effectively settled the tournament.

This was only Montgomerie's second appearance on a course this year - he won the Desert Classic in Dubai on his first - and he has moved up No 2 in the Sony World Rankings. A strict regime of healthy eating and exercise during the winter has produced a leaner and keener performer.

Now all he has to do is to overcome the psychological barrier of being regarded as the best player not to have won a major. He has gone close twice, losing play-offs for the 1994 US Open to Ernie Els and the 1995 US PGA to Steve Elkington.

US PGA PLAYERS' CHAMPIONSHIP (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla) Leading final scores (US unless stated): 270 F Couples 66 72 68 64. 274 C Montgomerie (GB) 71 69 66 68; T Tolles 69 64 69 72. 275 R Mediate 74 69 66 66; F Zoeller 66 70 72 67; K Perry 65 71 70 69; D Duval 70 66 68 71. 276 T Lehman 70 72 67 67; G Waite (NZ) 68 72 68 68; J Haas 68 68 69 71; V Singh (Fiji) 70 68 68 70; E Els (SA) 71 70 65 70. 277 L Mize 70 67 71 69; G Morgan 70 69 69 69; J Furyk 70 70 67 70; F Funk 70 69 67 71.