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Montgomerie still in love with Laguna

Colin Montgomerie continued his love affair with the Laguna National Golf & Country Club when a superb and flawless 65 gave the defending champion a commanding lead after the first round of the Caltex Masters, presented by Carlsberg, Singapore 2005.

A year ago, the 41 year old Scot only dropped one shot in four rounds on his way to a three shot victory and his uncanny accuracy resurfaced again in the steamy Singapore heat, seven birdies and no dropped shots seeing him move three shots clear of his nearest challengers, Malaysia’s Danny Chia, and the English duo of Nick Dougherty and Mark Foster.

“I really feel that this is a fantastic start to the New Year, it is the way I used to play in the 1990s where I didn’t make mistakes and I am always very proud of the fact when I finish a round of golf and I haven’t made a mistake,” he said.

“I never missed a green today, hardly missed a fairway and that was as good as I have ever done in these circumstances. To start out a year where the pressure is on for me to get my world ranking back to where it should be, and I know it should be in the top 20, this is a fantastic start.

“You can’t win a tournament on the first day but you can lose it and I am looking forward to continuing. I have Alastair (McLean) back on the bag and I am happier on and off the course as I have ever been in my life so this is a great start to what hopefully will be a good year.

“I have always prided myself in the number of twos I have had in a round, I have made an inordinate number of twos in my career, I’d love to add it up, and again I made three today. I have always said that if I am playing well, my iron shots are good and making twos is always a sign of me swinging the club well.”

It was not only the short holes on the Laguna National Golf & Country Club which were brought to their knees by the resurgent Scot, the par fours and fives also took a battering with putts dropping into the hole from a variety of distances ranging from four feet to 30.

Particularly pleasing to the man who holed the winning putt in last year’s Ryder Cup Matches in Detroit, was the fact that his new 16 kilogramme lighter frame enabled him to cope with the testing conditions and remain focused right to the end of his round, birdieing his last two holes, the eighth and the ninth.

“For anyone coming from Britain with paler skin and a fairer complexion, it is difficult to concentrate out there, so I was really glad to finish off two-three, in fact finish off both nines, two-three,” he said.

“But I did this properly. I came out to Dubai early for four days and really enjoyed myself there playing on my own course and then came over here so the jet lag wasn’t the same as it usually is.”

Another player who stopped off in Dubai to break up the journey was Mark Foster and he too reaped the benefits, also flawless in his first outing of the season, his opening 68 courtesy of four birdies and three up and downs for par.

“It is always good not to drop a shot in a round especially in these conditions,” said the winner of the 2003 dunhill championship. “It is blustery out there and that is the only thing that is really keeping you cool.

“The course is tough because if you miss a fairway or a green, you are in trouble and we have done a lot of work on that over the past two days trying to save shots and it worked. This is my first outing of the year so you are never really sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised.”

Another man delighted but not surprised to be in the upper echelons of the leaderboard in the joint sanctioned event with the Asian Tour was Foster’s fellow countryman Nick Dougherty, who followed up his weekend 68-66 in the South African Airways Open with another 68.

The 22 year old has put a lot of work in over the past two years in all aspects of his life, his mental approach, his fitness, his golf swing and his overall approach to being a Tour player, and admitted he is now beginning to reap the rewards of swapping the excesses of youth for the hard-working professional ethic.

“I can honestly say the way I was before that I didn’t deserve success, but now feel I have the right to believe in my ability because of the work I have done on everything,” he said. I have a right to believe in myself and it makes a big difference standing over every shot and knowing you have the ability to make it work.”

Like Foster, Dougherty had four birdies and no dropped shots in his round, the highlight coming at the long 15th where he struck a superb 2 iron second shot from a hanging lie, perfectly to the centre of the green, from where he two putted for birdie four.

Completing the trio on four under par was Danny Chia, who endured a rollercoaster final hole before posting his 68. After the elation of a monstrous drive, the 32 year old from Kuala Lumpur could only look on in anguish when his short pitch shot flew into the greenside bunker.

However, he turned matters around in fine style, holing the bunker shot from 40 feet for a closing birdie three, his sixth of the day. “I think I hit the drive too good and I got too close to the green,” he said. “Because it was a tailwind and with the pin position it was quite tough to stop the ball and I think I tried to be too cute with it and just misjudged it. But it was great to hole out from the sand.”

Further down the leaderboard, Lee Westwood, at 25 the highest ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking in the field, completed his first round of the 2005 season in two under par 70.

By courtesy of www.europeantour.com

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