Montgomerie on a devastating roll

ENGLISH OPEN: Scots resurgent with course record and a reborn Sandy Lyle. Guy Hodgson reports from the Forest of Arden
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Like the Ivory Coast rugby team, Colin Montgomerie is looking for a successful defence. The Scot may be the best golfer to come out of Europe for years but so far, either as an amateur or a professional, he has not been able to retain a title.

Which might be about to change at the Murphy's English Open. Yesterday he threw down the sort of challenge that the lions used to reserve for the Christians with a course record 63, nine under par, for a halfway total of 132 and a lead of three strokes. It was a performance of thumping power and accuracy.

Three under at the start of the day, he savaged the Forest of Arden to the tune of six birdies and two eagles to leave Thursday's leader Philip Walton, who had not dropped a shot on the course until his final hole yesterday, doggy-paddling in his wake. Montgomerie looked like a very good player playing very close to his best.

"It's very encouraging, particularly with what is happening in a fortnight's time," he said refering to the US Open at Shinnecock Hills. "I've been playing well but I've been waiting for the putts to go in. Today they started to drop."

With a vengeance. From the moment he rolled in a putt of 12 feet at the ninth his ball found the hole as if it was radar controlled. At the 17th he rolled one in from 40 feet for an eagle, at the third the reward was the same from 30 feet.

It was, he said, the result of a training tip he picked up at university where he putts from two feet until 100 consecutive balls have gone in. On Thursday evening he managed it in 10 minutes; yesterday the range could probably have been doubled.

Sandy Lyle, too, began rolling in putts yesterday which probably suprised him more than anyone. It is three years since his name bothered the trophy engravers which is a waste of criminal proportions given his talent. Yet yesterday there was a glimmer of hope that one of Britain's best golfers might not be extinct.

A four-under-par 68 pushed him on to the leaderboard with 138 but the most promising thing about Lyle (1995 edition) is he is able to do the basic: i.e. put the ball into the hole. "I've tried long putters I've tried short putters, and nothing worked," he said. "At this level you are not going to win tournaments if you're missing one or two four footers every round."

It was a good day too for another former Staffordshire county champion, Peter Baker, who moved to within five strokes of the lead with a 68.

Baker is the man some players think of when they refer to those who have not fulfilled their potential. Nick Faldo, for instance, pinpointed him as a potential major winner back in 1988 but in between his 12th place in the Order of Merit that year and his seventh two years ago there have been near catastrophic slumps to 104 and 108.

Nevertheless, his performance in the 1993 Ryder Cup (three points) suggested that Bernard Gallacher, the European captain, would not exactly be wiping tears away with his rankings list if Baked gained automatic entry into the team again. At 26th in the current money list it is not a remote possibility.

"I want to go over and beat the Yanks," he said. "It's tough, but if you can live through a week of Ryder Cup, you have a chance of making a living in this game."

At least one golfer had a difficulty removed from his life: what to drink for a month or two. Craig Cassells, 26, holed in one at the par-three 18th yesterday for which the prize was either pounds 12,500 or 13,750 pints of the sponsor's product. A Manchester City supporter, he wisely chose the Murphy's.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 47