Montgomerie makes an impressive return

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reports from Dubai

An opening round 67, five under par, in the Dubai Desert Classic represents a good first day's work of the year for Colin Montgomerie. Just how good was difficult to judge. Comfortably positioned in joint fourth place, he was four shots behind the leader, Miguel Angel Jimenez, of Spain. But then the Scot was also only four in front of another Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros.

If Ballesteros, the recently appointed European Ryder Cup captain, had the positive thinking of the European No 1, then he could not only be a playing skipper, but beat the Americans single-handed. While Montgomerie took three months off, got fit, lost weight and was keen to get back, Ballesteros had five months off and said it was too short. Yesterday, Ballesteros had a one-under 71, and dropped shots at the last two holes.

"The only answer to all these questions," he said, facing a sea of faces at his after-round press conference, "is that I have no confidence. Confidence is everything. It is a matter of playing competitive golf. I don't know how long it will take. It is getting better - I am seven shots better than in Morocco last week."

Then, Ballesteros shot 78, 79 to miss the cut. With the Emirates course helpfully soft - after more than the annual average rainfall descended on the desert on Tuesday - scoring was good, with 72 of the 135 players breaking par. Ballesteros was asked what he might need to ensure he made the cut. That set him off.

"I am very tired talking about the same things. I only have negative thoughts and negative questions in my mind all day long. Probably a psychologist would say to turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts, but that is hard to do. I really appreciate that people want me to come back. But if they really want to help, the best thing they can do is not send me any information."

Confidence oozed from Montgomerie. He admitted to a little apprehension on the first tee (actually the 10th), but two drives to the edge of the par-five green later and he had soon collected the first of four birdies. A putt from 25 yards also gave him an eagle at the third. "The expectations are greater now," he said." I struck the ball well. Whatever anyone else does, a 67 is good round here."

Montgomerie has just been appointed to the tournament committee and attended his first meeting on Wednesday. "I'm glad I've got a say," he said. "I've always said my bit, but now it's official." Rumours abound that this tournament will move to the Asian PGA tour next year. "You would hate to lose the best tournament you've got," Montgomerie said. "I rate the course very highly and the facilities are the best anywhere on tour."

Like Montgomerie, Jimenez started at the 10th and played his second nine, the harder half, in 30, courtesy of five birdies in a row from the second. America's Jay Townsend collected eight birdies to finish one behind and celebrate his 34th birthday in style.

Sam Torrance, however, whose proneness to injury now extends to when he is pushing a luggage trolley, had to withdraw before hitting a ball. His left ankle will be in a cast for at least a week and he will have an X-ray when he arrives home to decide whether he can travel to America to prepare for the US Masters on Sunday week.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 27