Friday, 19 March 2010

Scotland's Colin Montgomerie rolled back the years with a vintage US Open performance to take an early one stroke lead at Winged Foot Golf Club after a one under par 69 left him the only player among the morning starters to finish in red figures.

The 2005 European Number One lies one shot ahead of the American duo of Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson, who is aiming for a third successive Major title following his victories in last year’s US PGA Championship and the Masters Tournament in April.

Montgomerie finished third in the 1992 US Open, lost a play-off in 1994 and was second again in 1997, but has failed to make such an impact in the Championship since.

In this week’s 106th US Open, Montgomerie got off to a slow start with bogeys at the first and third, and after a birdie on the sixth was followed by another bogey on the eighth, the Scot was two over par.

At 514 yards the ninth is the longest par four in Major Championship history, but a brilliant approach to four feet set up a birdie three, and further birdies at the 12th and 17th - the latter a curling effort from 25ft - took Montgomerie into the outright lead.

It could have been even better, Montgomerie missing from five feet for a birdie on the 18th, but with the greens drying out thanks to a testing breeze, it could be good enough to lead throughout the day.

Montgomerie said: "I'm delighted, 69 is a good score under any circumstances but especially when I was two over after three.

"It was very difficult, the greens are drying out and it's difficult to get the ball close to the hole with a 15mph wind.

"The expectations on me to win this in the 1990s were very high and I got close a couple of times. The expectations have been lower the last few years and it does make a difference, you are more relaxed.

"It would not change my life if I did well here this week but it might have done in the 90s. It's nice I can go out there and freewheel and not worry about things.

"I am more relaxed now. I probably wanted it a little too much before. But it would mean as much, probably more, to do it at 42 years old than 32."

It was also a superb first morning for fellow European Tour Members Kenneth Ferrie of England, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and Fiji’s Vijay Singh, all of who posted one over par 71s.

Ferrie, playing his first US Open, spent much of the first morning with his name at the top of the leaderboard before bogeying two of the last three.

“I am pleased with the score but disappointed with the finish,” said last year’s Smurfit European Open winner. “Level par would have been very satisfying and one over is not the end of the world. I have been trying to work on my patience, I try and force things some of the time and this course you cannot do that. You have to take you medicine. Try and keep the huge numbers off the card as there are some birdies out there.”

Commenting on the prominence of Europeans in the upper echelons of the leaderboard, Ferrie added: “I got a bit of a shock out there and didn’t know if it was US Open or St Omer there were so many Europeans up there. It is good to see. I think we are about due a food week as there is a lot of talk about who will be the next European to win a major. Fingers crossed one of us can do it and get rid of the burden that is growing.”

McDowell finished strongly as he battled back from three over par at the turn to finish on the same mark at one over par.

“I struggled with the driver the last few months but hit it well today and my iron play has done nothing but improve the last few months,” he said. “I am hitting the ball really well. This is the ultimate test of golf and I am excited about the way I am playing. I will come out at the end of this week a better golfer. This is just the best set up in golf, the toughest set up and you learn so much in these weeks.”

England’s Philip Archer also made a sound start in his Major Championship debut with a two over par 74 to lie just three off the early pace.

Archer agonisingly missed a six-foot birdie putt for the first 59 on The European Tour during the recent Celtic Manor Wales Open, but joked: "I had a few texts asking how about it this week but I said if I have a putt for a 69 I'd be happy!

"If someone had said I would shoot two over I would have snapped their hand off but I've been playing well so I just stuck with the plan I've been using.

"If you miss the fairway you don't try anything, just chip out and leave a good wedge yardage.”

Nissan Irish Open winner Thomas Bjërn also carded a 72, as did Swede Peter Hedblom and Australian Adam Scott, Ireland's Padraig Harrington was three over, while England’s Ian Poulter recorded a 74 alongside Paul McGinley of Ireland.



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