Monty stays stout

Murphy's English Open: Big Scot remains positive as he suffers a twist of fate and Walton puts on the pressure
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The Independent Online
IF THERE is anything less appealing than watered down Murphy's it is the collapse of a stout party. At a dripping Forest of Arden course yesterday, the much-discussed burliness of Colin Montgomerie was still the looming presence. But a faulty round on a long and wet day had considerably diluted the dominance his record 63 on Friday had imposed on the rest of the field.

Montgomerie couldn't quite remember when he had played as badly and he was last seen heading for the practice ground to find out why he had transformed a three-shot lead into a three-shot deficit in the space of 11 holes.

It was a reversal that allowed his straggling rivals in the Murphy's English Open to take much closer order for today's final-round charge at the pounds 108,000 first prize.

Side-by-side with him on 12-under par will be Ireland's Philip Walton who shared Montgomerie's round if not his anguished adventures yesterday. Certainly not overawed by the Scot's lead, nor his loudly professed confidence in his ability to win, 'flu-sufferer Walton endured a sore throat and bleary eyes to register a courageous 69.

While Montgomerie headed for the range, Walton was on his way to bed. "Just as soon as I've got a couple of pints into me," he said. They are both well aware that lurking one shot behind them is the Australian Peter Senior, who began yesterday four shots adrift but who brought in a bogey- free 69. Spain's Jose Rivero is three shots behind the leaders while England's hopes of keeping their own Open title at home for the first time in four years rest with Barry Lane and Roger Chapman who are four back.

"At least, I've made it very interesting for tomorrow," said Montgomerie, who was determined to entertain nothing but positive thoughts. "I'll be very disappointed if I don't win," he had said after Friday's record round and the bookmakers made sure they wouldn't be disappointed if he did by making him 2-1 on favourite. With 36 holes to go this was a double dose of providence provocation that began to go wrong as early as the third hole.

It had been raining lightly as Montgomerie birdied the first two holes, but then came a deluge that at one time threatened to interrupt proceedings as the squeegee men fought to unflood the greens. The arrival of the rain coincided with the departure of the leader's consistent pressure. His front nine holes read par, par, bogey, bogey, par, double-bogey, eagle, par, bogey.

Three years ago that would have been curtains for the Scot whose temperament has not been the steadiest. "I turned a 75 into a 72," he said, "and I can win from here. I'm more mature mentally, tougher than I was and I'm also a better player than I was two or three years ago when it would have stayed a 75. I was throwing it away in a hurry and I fought back to keep a share of the lead. I've got the self-belief that I can win."

It was a confidence most severely challenged on the sixth by which time Walton had pulled a shot back and was about to take the lead. He chipped in from 25 yards for a birdie three while Montgomerie was on his way to a double-bogey six.

There was water on the ball and he squirted his shot right into an unplayable lie from which he took a drop. He played his fourth well left of the hole and it took an excellent chip even to scramble a six. Montgomerie then eagled the following hole by holing a 40-foot putt.

He dropped two more shots to Walton in what was becoming a real sluggers' battle. Walton made a mess of the 14th and then, faced with a shot of 191 yards with a crosswind on the par-three 15th, he put a five-iron 20 yards past. "Weird," he said.

Montgomerie grabbed his lead back with a birdie at the 16th and then decided to play sensibly. With 230 yards to the pin at the 17th, he forsook the driver he had previously used from the fairway with telling effect lagged safely up. Walton went for it with a four-wood and got his birdie to level the scores. "Nine times out of 10 I would have gone for the green myself," Montgomerie said, "now I'm using my head."

While all these dramas were going on, Senior was plodding ahead with golf that on such a day was a masterpiece of control. He eeked three birdies out of the course without giving one bogey away. And he had some words of consolation for those Midlands golf fans who were soaked on one of their rare chances to see Tour golf.

Senior, who plays a lot in the Far East, said: "Conditions were bad in patches and it has been a long time since I've hit woods into par fours. But this place isn't as bad as everybody makes out. We get more rain in Japan than you do here. It rains in nearly every tournament and we get more wind in Australia than you get here."