Monty ready for saunter in sauna

GOLF: Jack Nicklaus's designer course has European challengers on level playing field as US PGA tees off
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When Colin Montgomerie was beaten in an 18-hole play-off in the US Open at Oakmont, Pittsburgh, two years ago, it was so hot he ran out of shirts before running out of steam. For the 78th US PGA Championship at the Valhalla club in Kentucky, where golf will be played in conditions akin to a sauna, Monty is better prepared.

"People talk about the golf course and what have you, but I think the most important factor of the week is the heat," Monty said, relaxing with a cold drink in an air-conditioned room. In a practice round he found his mind wandering. "I was beginning to suffer around the 15th hole and my concentration went," he said. "The key is to be in the right frame mentally. You can end up in a lake or something without thinking about it, and it's just the heat."

Montgomerie is several stones lighter than he was at Oakmont, and has picked up a few tips about playing in a sauna. "I take one size larger in a glove because my hands swell so much. I'll use three or four gloves in a round, and wear light clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. I thought Oakmont was as bad as anyone could ever imagine, but this is the same."

Montgomerie, 33, is the world No 2 (behind Greg Norman), but he has not won a major championship, though he has gone close several times in America. Ernie Els beat him at Oakmont, and 12 months ago Steve Elkington rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt to win the US PGA at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off.

Montgomerie's form has been indifferent leading up to Kentucky, and once again he missed the halfway cut in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham. "You can't dwell on those things too long. If you did you'd be in an early grave. I'm not worried about Lytham. I just had two particularly bad days on the greens. I will be very happy to win one major. Any one, any time."

Valhalla is designed by Jack Nicklaus and, notwithstanding the fact few players would wish to fall out with the Golden Bear, the course has generally come in for genuine praise. "It's one of the best new courses I've ever played," Monty said. "When I look at a new course I don't think about how many good holes there are, but how many bad ones. There aren't any bad ones here at all. There are 18 strong holes of golf."

The design of the course, which favours left to right hitters, suits Montgomerie and Nick Faldo, though they are not accustomed to the bluegrass rough. Despite the fact that he has never won this championship, Faldo has again been installed as the 12-1 favourite with the bookmakers in London. Norman and Els are 14-1, Fred Couples 16-1 and Montgomerie is at 20-1, along with the Open champion Tom Lehman, Phil Mickelson and Corey Pavin. Incidentally, Couples, who withdrew from the Open last month, yesterday announced that he is buying the company that makes his golf clubs, Lynx Inc. Couples and other investors, including Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Pete Sampras and Allen Paulson, the owner of Cigar, America's wonder horse, paid US$37 million for Lynx, which makes the Black Cat brand of clubs.

Faldo described Valhalla as a thinking man's course, and on that basis he clearly thinks about two-thirds of the field of 150 can be instantly dismissed. Because Valhalla is a fresh creation, the Europeans, who often find conditions in America in August quite alien, believe they have a better chance this time. "Everyone is starting from scratch," Montgomerie said. "The fact that we're all in the same boat must give us an advantage."

In fact, they are not all in the same longboat at Valhalla. As the course designer, Nicklaus, who has won the US PGA five times, has a unique insight. Imagine Michael Atherton being allowed the luxury of preparing the pitch at Headingley. Whatever happens this week, Nicklaus, who yesterday posed for photographs with Muhammad Ali at the ninth green, can hardly complain about the course.

Fuzzy Zoeller, a native of these parts, is also familiar with Valhalla, having played here on a half a dozen occasions. "It's no guarantee that my ball will roll in the hole," Zoeller said. "The only advantage I have is that I get to sleep in my own bed this week. That's a big plus." As for the heat, which yesterday was around 100 degrees, Zoeller thought it was no sweat. "This is summertime and it's hot everywhere, folks."

Card of the course

Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par

1 425 4 10 565 5

2 515 5 11 165 3

3 199 3 12 470 4

4 355 4 13 350 4

5 460 4 14 208 3

6 415 4 15 410 4

7 605 5 16 450 4

8 165 3 17 432 4

9 415 4 18 540 5

Out 3554 36 In 3590 36

Total 7144 72 US PGA tee-off times

First two rounds (all times BST, US unless stated):

1220 first round (1623 second round): C Anderson, P Arthur, M Caporale. 1229 (1632): B Lohr, L Rinker, S Ingraham. 1238 (1641): S Schneiter, B Andrade, D Ogrin. 1247 (1650): C Strange, P Burke, G Morgan. 1256 (1659): J Ozaki (Japan), D Waldorf, D Frost (SA). 1305 (1717): G Waite (NZ), M Brooks, B Langer (Ger). 1314 (1726): J Sindelar, M Campbell (NZ), N Henke. 1323 (1735): A Cejka (Ger), J Haas, D Edwards. 1332 (1744): J Cook, T Herron, S Stricker. 1341 (1753): N Faldo (GB), S Jones, T Lehman. 1359 (1802): L Nelson, P Azinger, J Sluman. 1408 (1811): S Elkington (Aus), J Nicklaus, W Grady (Aus). 1417 (1820): J Parnevik (Swe), B Faxon, S McCarron. 1426 (1829): N Price (Zim), B Tway, J Mahaffey. 1435 (1838): R Mediate, M O'Meara, W Wood. 1444 (1856): J Daly, H Sutton, H Green. 1453 (1905): S Torrance (GB), B Crenshaw, P Senior (Aus). 1502 (1914): M McNulty (Zim), C Parry (Aus), S Hoch. 1511 (1923): S Lowery, R Allenby (Aus), M McCumber. 1520 (1932): J Furyk, P Jacobsen, P Walton (Irl). 1538 (1941): R Cochran, M Brisky, M Hulbert. 1547 (1950): D Martin, G Kraft, J DeForest. 1556 (1959): B Watts, T Tolles, J Edwards. 1605 (2008): B Israelson, J Nelson, B Boyd. 1614 (2017): E Booker, D Bateman, J Reeves. 1623 (1220): J Roth, W Chapman, C Tucker. 1632 (1229): G Bowman, M Taylor, J Bermel. 1641 (1238): M Dawson, K Triplett, M Bradley. 1650 (1247): T Tryba, K Perry, M Calcavecchia. 1659 (1256): J Huston, L Mize, V Singh (Fiji). 1717 (1305): P Stankowski, D Duval, H Clark (GB). 1726 (1314): S Higashi (Japan), J McGovern, D A Weibring. 1735 (1323): G Norman (Aus), D Love, C Pavin. 1744 (1332): I Woosnam (GB), F Nobilo (NZ), B Bryant. 1753 (1341): C Montgomerie (GB), F Zoeller, F Couples. 1802 (1359): T Watson, E Els (SA), T Kite. 1811 (1408): B McCallister, C Stadler, J Ozaki (Jap). 1820 (1417): E Aubrey, P Mickelson, C Rocca (It). 1829 (1426): P Stewart, L Wadkins, L Janzen. 1838 (1435): P-U Johansson (Swe), P Goydos, T Nakajima (Japan). 1856 (1444): S Simpson, N Lancaster, M A Jimenez (Sp). 1905 (1453): J Maggert, L Roberts, M James (GB). 1914 (1502): B Estes, F Funk, W Austin. 1923 (1511): J Morse, J Gallagher, B Mayfair. 1932 (1520): D Forsman, T Purtzer, J Leonard. 1941 (1538): G Day, J Adams, J D Blake. 1950 (1547): P Blackmar, B Ford, J Wilson. 1959 (1556): B Chamblee, L Clements, M Wiebe. 2008 (1605): L Nielsen, R Philo, E Terasa. 2017 (1614): R Ware, M Burke, K Schal.