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Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Talismanic over the years in The Ryder Cup, Colin Montgomerie again proved his love of the match play format when he headlined a superb opening day for The European Tour in the WGC – Accenture Match Play in Tucson.

The 43 year old Scot was in superb form to dispatch World Number Six Jim Furyk 3 and 2 at The Gallery Golf Club to progress to round two where he will now face another American in the shape of Charles Howell III.

Montgomerie’s victory was one of a glory day for European Tour Members as a whole who now fill exactly half of the 32 spots in Thursday’s second round – the men joining the Scot being Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter, Vijay Singh, Niclas Fasth, Adam Scott, Bradley Dredge, Paul Casey, Nick O’Hern, Henrik Stenson, Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Andres Romero.

But it was Montgomerie’s victory which caught most of the attention at the Arizona venue as the ultra-consistent Furyk, who possesses a fine match play pedigree in The Ryder Cup, was many people’s pick to enjoy a good week in the desert.

It certainly looked that way when the American profited from Montgomerie’s mistake at the second hole to go one up, but after that it was the Scot who produced the memorable golf, immediately levelling the match at the short third with a birdie two, before taking the lead for the first time at the fifth, an advantage he was not to relinquish.

“I am very, very happy with that,” said Montgomerie. “After Tiger, I believe Jim is one of the United States’ strongest match players and one of the toughest guys to beat. He was a tough opponent to draw in the first round but I played particularly well today.

“I hit the fairways and got inside of him a number of times and when I did that, I took advantage. I’ve hit decent iron shots recently and not taken advantage of the putts but I did today.

“I enjoyed the challenge as well, the challenge of putting my game up against one of the top players in the world and seeing where my game is – in those circumstances, it is good that I can come out on top.”

Of the 16 European Tour successes, the biggest margin of victory was recorded by Sweden’s Niclas Fasth who started with an eagle and a birdie against a shellshocked Richard Green and was soon out of sight of the Australian, before closing out the match on the 13th green, 6 and 5.

Fasth might have had the honour of the biggest winning margin of the day but by far the best golf of the day was produced by England’s Paul Casey who had to bring his A-game to the course to see off his Ryder Cup team-mate Robert Karlsson of Sweden.

Casey was nine under par for 18 holes, eventually seeing off the towering Swede on the home green with a curling 25 footer for birdie and, incredibly, the better ball between the pair over the 18 holes was 14 under par 58.

“I know Robert’s game very well having played with him on The European Tour and having been partners with him in The Ryder Cup at The K Club,” he said. “I knew it was going to be incredibly difficult and he proved me right on that.

“It did go through my mind at one stage that I could shoot something like 64 out there and still lose the match and it did come close to that happening. So I’m very happy to get through – he’s a great player and it is nice to get past that first round.”

Next best winning margins were recorded by Open champion Padraig Harrington, who saw off American Jerry Kelly by 4 and 3, the same winning margin recorded by Bradley Dredge of Wales who comfortably dealt with South African Rory Sabbatini.

Aside from Montgomerie, 3 and 2 winning margins were posted by Sergio Garcia over John Senden, Nick O’Hern over Scott Verplank, Angel Cabrera over Anders Hansen and Lee Westwood over Brandt Snedeker.

Like Fasth, Westwood got off to a blistering start, birdieing three of the first four holes to immediately shoot clear of Snedeker and although he was always in control of the match, the Englishman sounded a note of caution about getting too carried away in the tournament itself.

“I’m confident, but you can never really fancy your chances in this format,” he said. “I was just saying to someone else there, this is the kind of week where you kind of unpack, but don’t move your stuff too far away from your suitcase just in case!”

Completing The European Tour Roll of Honour were the 2 and 1 wins recorded by Ian Poulter over Soren Hansen, Adam Scott over Brendan Jones, Luke Donald over Nick Dougherty and Andres Romero over Retief Goosen; the 19th hole success by Vijay Singh over Peter Hanson; and the final green triumphs of Trevor Immelman over Shingo Katayama and defending champion Henrik Stenson over Robert Allenby.

Outside the European Tour challenge, there were scares for the top two seeds, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but both eventually progressed to round two on the final green, dispatching JB Holmes and Pat Perez respectively.

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