Monty turns up heat

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For the first two days of this shiverathon, Rees Jones, the American designer of The Oxfordshire course, was watching on the Golf Channel in the warmth of his home. Yesterday, be-sweatered, he arrived in person. "If the only thing the players are complaining about is the softness of the sand, then I'm happy," he said. "That's nothing to do with me."

The reaction to Jones's course has been generally good, something confirmed by the second-day leader-board having a cluster of Ryder Cup players near its summit. "We designed the course to give players options, give them something to think about," Jones said. "It is a good test of golf. The cream will rise to the top."

Just as Jones said this, the lead in the Benson & Hedges International was shared, at five under, between Jon Robson, Ross Drummond, Stephen Ames and Wayne Riley. While Riley, an Australian, and Ames, from Trinidad and Tobago, belied their warm-weather origins to shoot course-record 67s, the richest of cream, a substance banned on Colin Montgomerie's diet, soon rose again.

A back nine of five birdies left Montgomerie, who started the round determined to live up to his self-proclaimed billing as the favourite for each European tour event he plays, leading by three from Ian Woosnam. Monty also shot 67, but do not think conditions had suddenly improved; his playing partner, Bernhard Langer, struggled to a 73.

After finding water with his tee shot at the par-three fifth, the Scot was out in level par and then things started to happen. He holed from 40 feet at the 12th and got in the lead with a birdie at the 14th. "To get in the lead and then finish with three birdies, is very good," Montgomerie said. A six-iron to 10 feet at the 16th, an up and down from the back of 17 and a 15-footer at the last. "It shows me that fitness is paying off. I am hitting the ball off the tee well and holing out well."

This after he had complained in recent weeks that he was not holing enough. "Not bad for someone who can't putt," said Woosnam. The Welshman has led the Order of Merit since his two wins at the start of the season, and he is not about to let that situation change now that we have hit the big-money events. "If I win the next two, it will be different," Woosie bristled, referring to the pounds figure rather than his position.

"This is the best I have played for four or five years," Woosnam added, after a 68 that was free of a dropped shot. "I have had only three bogeys all week. If I make a few more putts I'll be shooting 64s."

Woosnam's renaissance is down to work with Bill Ferguson, Montgomerie's long-time coach. "I'm disappointed Bill has taken him on," Montgomerie said. "I should have said no, but it's great for Woosie."

Until Monty's late charge, Nick Faldo was lurking in plenty of rear mirrors. A 69 left him four under. It could have been worse. "I made a few really bad swings," Faldo said. "There were at least five good up and downs." One of those was from the drop zone at the 13th, the hole that he took just one shot to play on Thursday. This time he pulled his seven-iron into the water but limited the damage to a single bogey.

If this was meant to be a homecoming for the Masters champion, the weather must have thought it should be honouring his Swedish caddie, Fanny Suneson. Rather than the cold - it was the odd degree warmer yesterday - it has been the north-east wind that has caused Faldo problems.

"It is a combination of three weeks off and the weather that has mucked me up," he said. "I start leaning in the wind. It is always a problem for me. I need to work on a few things. But I'll be a good few groups ahead of the leaders and if I can post a score it could be interesting." Now where have we heard that before?