Taunted by Troon: two who suffered in the first round

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The Independent Online
As a member of Royal Troon, Colin Montgomerie is well aware of the old tradition of setting off early in the morning, playing the front nine, crossing over to the adjoining Prestwick course to complete 18 holes, lunching in the renowned clubhouse there, and then setting out on the return journey. Monty might have contemplated doing much the same yesterday, except replacing the last by continuing a routemarch along the coast.

A first-round 76, five over par, once more sees the Scot battling to avoid the cut in the Open, something he has failed to do on four of the last five occasions. "This is nothing new to me," Europe's four-times No 1 conceded. "Whether I do well tomorrow or not, I'll come back from this. It won't hurt."

Montgomerie needs to reverse his opening rounds of 65-76 from the US Open. "I'm capable of doing that," he said. "I just played particularly badly today."

In his wife's home town and at the club where his father retires as secretary in a month's time, Monty was welcomed on to the first tee with another Scottish favourite, Tom Watson. Immediately, Montgomerie pushed his tee shot, was over the green with his second and had to hole a five-footer for par.

Montgomerie's form coming into the tournament was unquestionable, capped by a 62 in the Irish Open. But more than his local knowledge, it was his noted straight driving that should have made him a contender on a course with fairways of single carriageway width. But Monty hit only three out of 14 fairways. At times he took irons off the tee for positional purposes and still missed the short grass. Meanwhile, Watson smote his driver to such an effect that the difference between their tee shots was over 100 yards.

At the sixth, a jumbo making a low, slow, graceful take-off from Prestwick airport took one look at Monty and made a dogleg left, heading out over the Atlantic. The captain was not a bad judge. Having birdied the two par-fives on the front nine, Monty went on a shocking run of seven bogeys in nine holes. Mostly these were caused by being on the right rough off the tee, his familiar push under pressure, but occasionally it was because he was in the left rough off the tee.

At the end, he stomped off to the clubhouse, but whereas in the past that would have been the last anyone would have seen of him, he lived up to a promise to explain himself after a short cooling-off period. He even managed to force a smile when someone said he must have been pleased to par the last three holes.

"Thank you, that was delightful," he said. "I was thrilled with that finish. I can really go from strength to strength." He did not blame the wind or any added pressure he might have felt. "It would be unnatural not to feel a bit of extra pressure, but if it was going to affect me it would have been on the first six holes, and I was two under after six.

"I should be able to hit more fairways than that. I know the lines, I just did not hit the ball on them. Given that I only hit three fairways, I'd like you all to say how good a 76 that was."

The question posed in these pages yesterday perhaps should have been whether Tigermania or Monty's mania would win out this week. On the evidence of yesterday, the latter has once again prevailed.