Colin Montgomerie may have travelled halfway around the world but he has brought his form with him, carding a stunning six under par 64 at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco to open up a three stroke lead in the World Golf Championships – American Express Championship.
Last Sunday Montgomerie captured the dunhill links championship at St Andrews but there was little time for celebrating his first win in 19 months as he boarded a plane to San Francisco. He may be forgiven for feeling the effects of the 12 hour flight but instead he returned his lowest score on American soil this year.
“I won on Sunday and that was a delight for me,” said the Scot. “It gave me some confidence. I hadn’t won for 19 months and it’s nice to win again, especially there, and come over here with a lot more self-esteem and a lot more confidence than I have had and I proved that today.
“Ninety percent of it is carry over from Sunday. If I finished third or fourth last week I wouldn’t have shot 64 today, simple as that. It’s given me a huge boost in my career.”
Montgomerie played the tight Harding Park course as he did in his peak during the 1990s, hitting fairways and then taking advantage of some good iron play. That was the key to his success during a decade when he dominated European golf and the formula continues to work. He hit 16 of the 18 greens in regulation, the highest return of any player in the field.
His three shot lead over 11 players also equalled the largest 18 hole lead in the history of the WGC - American Express Championship.
A birdie on his first hole, the tenth, when he pitched to four feet, set the tone for the round as he followed that with a 25 foot birdie putt on the 12th. But it was as he approached the turn that he really stamped his authority on the round, peppering the flag on the 16th, 17th and tough 18th holes to pick up three successive birdies, all from within a few feet.
The front nine is the tougher of the two but Montgomerie held on well and twice lipped out for birdie before adding a sixth birdie of the round on the seventh hole to open up a clear lead.
It was the perfect start for Montgomerie as he looks to overhaul Michael Campbell at the top of The European Tour Order of Merit in his bid to win the Harry Vardon Trophy for an eighth time. He currently trails the US Open Champion by €126,416 but with €1,078,119 on offer for the winner this week a top six finish could be enough to take Montgomerie back to the top.
Montgomerie heads a strong European Tour challenge in San Francisco with Spain’s Sergio Garcia and the English pair of David Howell and Ian Poulter, Fiji’s Vijay Singh and American John Daly lying alongside World Number One Tiger Woods and fellow Americans Olin Browne, Mark Calcavecchia and Fred Funk and Australian Rod Pampling.
Garcia, the World Number Six, has only once finished outside the top ten in the WGC – American Express Championship, and again showed his liking for this tournament with a three under par 67. One bad shot on the eighth, his 17th, brought about his only bogey of the day.
Some hard work on the putting green over the last couple of days paid off for Poulter as he too shot a 67, picking up five birdies with two dropped shots.
The leaderboard is liberally sprinkled with some of the best players in the game today, with Woods, winner of the title three times in its five year history, looking ominous after he too opened with a three under par 67.
The course itself stood up well against the world best golfers, with only 26 of the 71 players in the field breaking par and the weather conditions are expected to get tougher as the week progresses.