Monty blooms in the desert

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COLIN MONTGOMERIE knows for sure that by sitting at home - or doing sit-ups at least - until the eighth week of the season, he had pretty much handed Ian Woosnam a pounds 211,005 lead at the top of the money list.

"Not for long," Montgomerie rejoined. After a five-under 67, the Scot, a three times winner of the Volvo Order of Merit, is just one shot behind Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez after three rounds of the Dubai Desert Classic.

"Situation rosy," said Montgomerie. "We've got a game on now." Still very much in that game though is Woosnam, one shot further back after a seven-under 65, the same score as his Irish playing partner Raymond Burns, whose putting was impeccable from long range.

The Welshman has designs on Montgomerie's pounds 835,051 record European earnings of last year and is seeking a third win in his fifth event of the year, which would be an exceptional start in anyone's book. Woosnam has only gone over par once in three rounds, at the short 7th on Thursday when he hit a five-iron heavy and it came up short in the water. That cost a double-bogey five. "Everyone makes mistakes," said Woosnam, although it looked as if this was one that could be attributed to his caddie Phil "Wobbly" Morbey for giving him the wrong club.

For the second successive day, Woosnam holed from a bunker short of the 10th green for an eagle, and five other birdies came along straightforwardly enough on a course left soft by the pre-tournament rain. "I think I'll have to get to 18 under, maybe more," Woosnam said.

Montgomerie, at 14 under, is thinking of a similar target for today. "If someone gets to 19 under, good luck to them." After misjudging his approach to the 9th green, and seeing his ball fall short into the water, he hit a nine-iron from 131 yards to four feet and holed the putt to limit the damage to a bogey.

"It did me good to get up and down from there. It kept my momentum going," Montgomerie said. "I wanted to play the back-nine in three under and that's what I did."

Woosnam's return to top form this year has much to do with the input of Montgomerie's coach, Bill Ferguson. "We are both very different players," said Montgomerie, "but whatever Bill is doing to us, he is obviously doing the right thing."

Jimenez, a winner of two previous tour events, was making serene progress until a birdie-putt lipped out at the 12th. At the par-five next, he blocked his three-wood second into water, then duffed a chip and took three to get down from a bunker for a seven. A birdie at the last gave him a 70 and a slender lead.

Will he wobble under the pressure today? "There is no problem," he said. "If you start thinking of who you are playing against, you forget to play golf."