Montgomerie prepares to play through pain

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Golf

TIM GLOVER

Although he was born in Australia, Steve Elkington has spent so much time and earned so much money in America his heart probably lies at his home in Houston, Texas. As the Ryder Cup reached its climax in Rochester, New York, Elkington watched the match on television in Taiwan at 3am. "I had tears running down my face," he said.

What prompted this show of emotion was not that Elkington felt sad for two of his friends on the United States team, Brad Faxon and Jeff Maggert, but that he was delighted for the wins of Sam Torrance and Costantino Rocca.

Today Torrance and Rocca, who between them have won more than pounds 1m in prize-money this season, resume the cut and thrust of head-to-head combat in the Toyota World Match Play Championship over the Burma Road. In the first round, Torrance plays Bernhard Langer and Rocca meets Vijay Singh.

In the other two first-round matches, Lee Janzen plays Katsuyoshi Tomori and Colin Montgomerie takes on David Duval. If Montgomerie, who is nursing a wrist injury, survives to the second round, he will play Elkington, who beat him in a sudden-death finish to the US PGA Championship in July.

Montgomerie birdied the last three holes to get into a play-off with Elkington, who then rolled in a 20-foot putt to win the first extra hole. "He deserved to win as much as I did," Elkington said. The remark was not meant for public consumption, but was relayed to Montgomerie by fax.

They are both aged 32 and both played golf at universities in Houston. Whereas Elkington won All-American honours, Montgomerie did not set the campus alight. "He did nothing in college," Elkington said. "In fact, I wasn't sure that his future was in golf. He's the ultimate late bloomer."

Elkington thought that Monty's swing was "unorthodox", but after the US PGA he studied the Scot's style on video. "It looked perfect," Elkington said. "I wanted to know why he drives the ball so straight on every hole. He and Greg Norman are probably the best drivers in the world."

Montgomerie, who was beaten by Ernie Els in last year's final, will have heat and laser treatment on his painful wrist before teeing off this morning. "It would be very difficult to pull out at this stage," Montgomerie said.

The 24-year-old Duval is making his debut in the championship. He turned professional two years ago and has won so much money this season on the US Tour he has made the top 10, and will probably become their rookie of the year.

Even if Montgomerie had not had a suspect wrist, the odds are that he would be involved in a close match with the American. Duval has not played at Wentworth before, but he made a significant impression in Scotland this year on courses that were new to him.

He had a good run in the Scottish Open at Carnoustie and was on the leaderboard in the Open at St Andrews until taking a seven at the Road Hole. "I have been a good player for years," Elkington said, "and I never finished in the top 10 in America."

If the matches go the distance, the top four seeds have the advantage. They have a free day today, although Els says he is in the mood to defend. By last year's standards, the South African has had a quiet season. "With the talent he has," Montgomerie said, "never write him off for anything."

While retaining membership of the US Tour next year, Els, forming a pressure group with Norman and Nick Price, intends to play more in Europe. He has bought a house in Lake Nona, Florida, the base of David Leadbetter and his team. "I still have faults in my swing," Els said. In a non-vintage field, it is the Elk, rather than Els, who could land the pounds 170,000 first prize.

TOYOTA WORLD MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (Wentworth) Tee-off times: 0815 and 1230: L Janzen (US) v K Tomori (Japan). Winner to play E Els (SA). 0830 and 1245: S Torrance (GB) v B Langer (Ger). Winner to play N Price (Zim). 0845 and 1300: C Montgomerie (GB) v D Duval (US). Winner to play S Elkington (Aus). 0900 and 1315: C Rocca (It) v V Singh (Fiji). Winner to play B Crenshaw (US).

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