Welsh water torture

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TIM GLOVER

reports from Collingtree

About the only thing Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance have in common is that they are both Scotsmen. That and the fact that they are playing as if on auto pilot. They are having a battle royal at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit and it seems that week in, week out, their names appear on the leaderboard.

Yesterday, they were at it again, Torrance scoring 67 in the first round of the British Masters, Big Monty 69. Montgomerie has won two of the last three tournaments and Torrance was runner-up on both occasions. Monty leads the Order of Merit with pounds 574,241 and Torrance is second with pounds 510,808. But don't put money on them playing together in the Ryder Cup.

Monty would like to partner Nick Faldo, and yesterday Torrance expressed a preference for Ian Woosnam. "I think we'd be a great team," Torrance said. "I like Woosie. He's a class act and he's playing great."

Playing great? Yesterday Woosnam shot 74, two over par, finishing with a double-bogey seven at the 18th where he dumped his ball into the pond in front of the green. When a radio reporter asked Woosnam, who has recently become a disciple of "positive thinking", for a comment, the little Welshman pointed to a tree and suggested that the man with the microphone should climb it.

Seve Ballesteros was similarly non-communicative, despite coming home in 33 with four birdies in a round of 69. Ballesteros's problem was that it should have been five birdies, but he missed a five-foot putt at the last. That is often the difference between a sunny smile and a willingness to talk, and a face like thunder accompanied with the demeanour of a Trappist monk.

Sky TV must have been praying for Ballesteros to make that putt. Sky became the saviour of the sponsorless British Masters at the last minute, and their rescue package not only usurped the BBC, who were due to cover the tournament, but also, of course, provided plenty of live coverage.

Thus when Ballesteros came off the 18th, he was surrounded by a team from Sky. Alas, they were not over the moon. Ballesteros clearly thought Sky was the limit. "When I say no, I mean no," Ballesteros said. "I'm sick of the Ryder Cup. That's all I hear about morning, noon and night."

No such problems with Torrance, who had five birdies, no bogeys. Torrance and his broomstick putter have been flying for 10 weeks, ever since winning the Murphy's Irish Open. He was reminded that when Faldo hit a rich vein of form, Faldo knew he would shoot between 67 and 69. "Lucky bastard," Torrance replied. "I've no idea what I will score. I've learned to never think you are on top of the game because it will jump up and bite you on the throat pretty quickly."

Torrance says he is not superstitious, but he will only carry identical ball markers. "Usually they are two coins of the country I am playing in," he said. "I don't take a red marker and a blue marker because if I hole a putt having used a blue marker and at the next hole I pulled out a red marker, I would be digging in my pocket looking for the blue one. With two coins the same, I don't know which one I'd used."

Yesterday, he carried two 20p coins. For the Ryder Cup in Rochester, New York, next week, he said he will use the biggest American coins he can find.

Torrance is one stroke behind Sandy Lyle, Mats Hallberg and Jean-Louis Guepy, and you would not have wagered 20p on any of them scoring 66. Lyle had nine birdies and was only recognisable at the 17th, where he blocked a two-iron and the ball bounced out of bounds. That cost a double-bogey six. Lyle wants to rejoin the US Tour next year. "I feel I'm playing a lot better now," he said. "I feel I can handle America." The question is, can America handle Sandy Lyle?

Results, Sporting Digest, page 31

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