Colin Montgomerie, of Scotland, recovered superbly after three early bogeys to outshine Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros and Corey Pavin in the first round of the Canon European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland, yesterday.
Montgomerie went round in 68, just one shot off the pace, as the world No 1, Norman, and Pavin, the United States Open champion, both struck one-over-par 73s, while Ballesteros finished with a dismal 74.
On a cold and windy day when the start was delayed for an hour because of frost, eight players - Peter Mitchell, Steven Richardson, Barry Lane, Mark Mouland, Darren Clarke, the defending champion, Eduardo Romero, of Argentina, and the Spaniards, Jose Rivero and Domingo Hospital - shot 67, five under par.
But Montgomerie, who won the German Open last Sunday, is now favourite. Playing in the worst of the weather and with the greens spiking up, the burly Scot birdied the opening hole but then dropped shots at the second, third and fourth.
It took him to two over but, as Montgomerie said later: "I was not worried. My three bogey holes were the most difficult on the course and I knew I had 14 birdie chances to come. "I made four birdies and eagled the 15th and I'm more than satisfied. The greens were fast and not too smooth, but I'm out early in the morning and should have the best of the greens then. Holing out is the key here, but it's a bit difficult when your hands are frozen."
Norman, who won the World Series in Ohio last Sunday, could do nothing right on the greens and said: "Some days are good, some days are bad. But today it was just the putting.
"All the greens seemed different to me from the first hole when I hit it 12 feet past the hole from 35 feet. But I'm not too far back on 73. You can blitz back-to-back 63s round here so I'm not too disappointed."
Pavin, too, had a bad day on the greens and said later: "I three-putted three times and missed three other short putts, which is unusual for me, to say the least."
Ballesteros, hoping to regain his form before the Ryder Cup in less than four weeks time, was the most unhappy of the top players. "I didn't feel comfortable out there and nothing is going well. But you just have to keep trying," he said.
Of the eight leaders, Clarke was perhaps the happiest for he was level par after 11 holes and then birdied five of the last seven. Like Lane and Rivero, he had been hoping to make the Ryder Cup team. But all three may have hit their best form a week too late.
Scores, Sporting Digest, page 27Reuse content