Montgomerie keeps lead in British Open
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England Colin Montgomerie heard the roars on every side of him. The difficult part now is not looking back.
Tiger Woods still found the rough with his drives yesterday, but scrambled to a 3-under 68 and moved into contention after two rounds of the British Open.
Especially in a British Open.
With Tiger Woods lurking just four strokes back.
Riding an emotional groundswell he has never felt, Montgomerie delivered a 1-under 70 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes on Friday, giving him a one-stroke lead over Pierre Fulke of Sweden going into the weekend.
At every turn, the enormous gallery cheered on Montgomerie as if that support alone could carry him to his first major championship.
If only it were that easy.
Still ahead of him are 36 holes. Not too far behind is Woods, whose six major championships are six more than Montgomerie can claim.
"I've won major championships and I've won the Open. That in itself relieves a lot of tension, a lot of pressure, because you know what it takes,'' Woods said. "If you haven't won one, it becomes a little more difficult.''
That's what awaits Montgomerie this weekend.
He has won an Open from start-to-finish as recently as three weeks ago, only it was the Irish Open. He says he is playing as well now as he has in some of the 30 tournaments he has won around the world.
"In fact, I've played an awful lot worse than this and won tournaments,'' he said. "I feel quite comfortable at this stage.''
But this is a major championship, and Montgomerie conceded it's new territory for him.
It isn't for Woods.
Trying to become the first player in 18 years to successfully defend the claret jug, Woods birdied all the par 5s and escaped with only a bogey on a potentially disastrous 15th hole for a 3-under 68 and at 3-under 139 for the tournament.
Montgomerie, who was at 7-under 135, didn't know Woods' score until later. He never heard any cheers for Woods because his own gallery never stopped roaring. He studied every scoreboard and never saw Woods' name, only because there wasn't room with six players in front of him.
"What is he, 3 under, 4 under?'' Montgomerie asked.
Told that Woods was at 3-under 139, he nodded.
"Well, that's great. Thank God he's not 4.''
This is the first time Montgomerie has led a major after 36 holes since the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he got into a playoff that was won by Ernie Els.
"It is tiring,'' Montgomerie said of the prospect of going wire-to-wire.
Carrying him along was a British gallery that offered thunderous ovations at the mere sight of the 38-year-old Scot lumbering toward the green.
"I think they're quite glad to see me leading at this stage,'' he said. "There's an awful long way to go. We've managed to cover half of it.''
None of the six players between Montgomerie and Woods has ever won a major. Some are barely known outside of Europe, and even the lone American in the mix Joe Ogilvie is playing in only his second major.
Fulke, who clinched a spot on his first Ryder Cup team by finishing second at the Match Play Championship in Australia, had a bogey-free 67 and closed with seven straight pars. He has made only one bogey at Royal Lytham.
Jesper Parnevik, Greg Owen of England and Ogilvie each had 68 and were at 137, while Eduardo Romero, Niclas Fasth and Alex Cejka were another stroke back.
Woods has some company at 139 he'll play with good buddy and former British Open champion Mark O'Meara, who had a 69 on Friday. Also in that group of 139 was Darren Clarke, Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade.
Parnevik has had two good chances at winning the British Open since 1994, but Woods was the name that jumped out at Montgomerie.
"I'm happy he's behind me. I will be happier on Sunday if he's behind me,'' Montgomerie said. "We all have an eye on him. He's the best player in the world by some margin. We are ahead of him right now, but he must be quite comfortable in that position.''
Indeed, he was.
It was hardly a spectacular round by Woods not even as good as the 66 he shot in the second round at Lytham in 1996 when he was a 20-year-old amateur. Still, the mistakes were minimal and he took advantage of the three par 5s with birdies on all of them.
His worst drive led to a birdie, but only because it went so far right of the fairway that it landed in a patch of hay trampled by the gallery. His wedge covered the 111 yards required to clear a pot bunker and stopped 20 feet away.
The round could have fallen apart on the next hole when Woods hit out of a divot into rough so thick that all he could do was chop it into a bunker by the green. But he blasted out to 6 feet and holed the putt.
"I feel pretty good about where I am right now,'' he said.
David Duval and Phil Mickelson can't say the same.
The best American players to have never won a major might not get a chance at Lytham. Duval was only two strokes back at one point until taking a double bogey from a pot bunker on No. 10, shooting 40 on the back nine and finished seven strokes back.
Mickelson was going along fine until he hit into rough at No. 14, then into a bunker, then three-putted for double bogey. He found another pot bunker on the 17th to drop a shot, signed for a 72 and also was at 142.
The last time Montgomerie had the first-round lead at a major, he shot 76 the next day in the '97 U.S. Open and never caught up.
He was solid this time, except for a poor iron off the third tee that rattled into the trees. He was lucky to hack it into the fairway and take only bogey, and his only other glitch was a tee shot that ran too far into a pot bunker on No. 15.
He was met with energetic applause along the way, the gallery hanging on every shot.
"Even walking up the first hole, I realized this is going to be a different type of day,'' Montgomerie said. "It was quite amazing. I've never had this before.''
He had some luck, too.
His approach into the par-5 seventh was headed into the gallery and waist-high grass until it caromed out and rolled down a carpeted path away from danger. Another approach on No. 11 rolled up the sodded wall and out of a bunker.
The crowd let out another roar, a sound Montgomerie came to know well.
"May it long continue,'' he said.