Montgomerie in pique form

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The Independent Online
IF THE determination that keeps Colin Montgomerie forever on the edge of anger could be shared around the European team, their chances in America this week would not suffer for a lack of thunder-faced belligerence. He has more than enough to spare and gave a full demonstration of the excess when misfortune struck him in sight of the 18th green and the best round of the day at the Collingtree British Masters yesterday.

He had begun his round five shots behind leader Sam Torrance. At the ninth he put a three iron to within ten feet of the pin to produce an eagle that gave him an outward nine of 33. Four birdies on the way home sent him to the 18th needing a birdie for a 65 that would have sent him into today's final only two shots behind his fellow Scot.

A perfect drive took him to the middle of the par five's fairway, 190 yards from the island green. He selected a four iron to carry the water but as he swung into the ball his right foot slipped on the saturated fairway and the ball splashed well short of the target. What should have been a birdie became a bogey and dropped him three shots back.

He was still steaming in the Press tent 15 minutes later. "What should have been a shot of 190 yards became 150 yards when my foot slipped. It's very, very wet out there. To say I'm disappointed is an understatment." Then, in answer to the next question, he said: "Yes, it spoiled a very good day's work," before abruptly getting to his feet and stamping out. I don't know what the Americans make of him but, by God, he frightens me.

There is nothing wrong, of course, in being twitchy the weekend before the Ryder Cup. We've already had other tell-tale signs. Seve Ballesteros said he is fed up already with the Ryder Cup hype. "People talk about nothing else," he complains. On Friday evening the European captain, Bernard Gallacher, spoke on Radio 5 about the press trying to undermine Ryder Cup team.

These are all good signs that the sap of this week's great contest is rising, although there were few signs of nerves among the Ryder team-mates who led the field around yesterday. Torrance and Mark James broom-handled their way around the greens like a pair of mine-sweepers without a trace of tension. James faltered on the back nine but Torrance marched on to a 68 that cemented his lead.

Torrance and Montgomerie have more to fret about than beating America. Torrance is chasing Montgomerie at the top of the Order of Merit and today he could make up much, if not all, of the pounds 60,000 deficit. When Torrance heard about his rival's problem with a slipping foot on the 18th he was was hardly sympathetic. "It had to be something, didn't it?" he said.

Torrance's steadiness is heartening. He suffered two bogeys yesterday but made up for it with six birdies, one coming on the last, after his tee-shot he was much further from the pin than Montgomerie. With 228 yards to go he took his favourite seven wood - "the old man's club" - and hit it pin high to the green.

Asked if he had trouble keeping his feet, he said: "Not at all, I didn't have too much to drink last night." As for the Ryder Cup: "I haven't thought about it. Being in contention in tournaments keeps my mind off it. I thought about it for weeks."

Among others not thinking about it are Torrance's closest rivals Michael Campbell and Domingo Hospital who are well placed to steal the show at 13 under while Peter Mitchell performed admirably to finish one shot behind them. At one time it looked as if Mitchell would be playing a secondary role to his playing partner Ballesteros, who had one of his stirring spells in which he birdied the ninth after a brilliant bunker shot and then sent a wedge over a tree to birdie the tenth. But he overhit his tee-shot at the next hole and almost rolled into the water; he drove into a neighbouring garden to double bogey the 17th and then found the water twice on the 18th to finish with a seven and a total of 74. Never mind, it is this week's form that counts.