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Published: Friday, 6/16/2006

Montgomerie alone solves Winged Foot

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

MAMARONECK, N.Y. - David Howell of Great Britain didn't find out until late in his round what it meant to miss fairways and greens during yesterday's first round of the U.S. Open.

Tiger Woods, on the other hand, experienced it from beginning to end.

He saw just about every nook and every cranny of venerable Winged Foot Golf Club. Playing for the first time since the Masters in early April, Woods had to scramble like crazy just to shoot a 6-over 76, equal to his highest Open round as a professional.

Howell, meanwhile, dropped four shots over the last four holes, which propped up Scottish-born Colin Montgomerie as the leader after the first round.

Monty, almost a decade removed from his last serious bid for a U.S. Open title, produced a 1-under 69 early in the day and, thanks to Howell's late slide, saw it stand up for a one-shot lead.

It has been 3 1/2 decades, since Tony Jacklin's victory in 1970, that a European has won the U.S. Open.

Kenneth Ferrie, an Englishman who managed a 1-over 71, said he looked at the scoreboard "and got a bit of a shock. I didn't know if it was the U.S. Open or the St. Omer Open [an event in France] there were so many Europeans up there. But we have some great players here and I think we are about due."

A few Yanks might have something to say about that.

Phil Mickelson, gunning for a third straight major championship, and 2003 Open champ Jim Furyk were at even-par 70 along with Steve Stricker, Howell and Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez.

And major champions like Vijay Singh and Mike Weir headed up a group right behind at 1-over 71.

Woods, of course, wasn't about to count himself out after a round which saw his ball land in just three of 14 fairways, hit 10 of 18 greens in regulation, and need 33 putts. He started with three straight bogeys, had a total of six on the front nine, and added a double bogey for good measure at No. 12.

"[I'm] used to playing U.S. Opens with fast greens, and these aren't," Woods said. "I felt pretty good. No rust. I started off swinging well, but my bad start was [from] not adjusting to the greens. Once I did that I was fine, but the conditions toughened up a bit and I was so far behind and I couldn't get it back.

"Some of the holes, I drove it through the doglegs. On some, I just hit bad tee shots. I have to hit the ball in more fairways and have situations where I can at least go at a couple flags. I'll just have to plod along and see what happens. At least I'm still in the ballgame and maybe I can get it going the next three days."

That seemed less remote of a possibility after Howell spit the bit down the stretch.

He was 4-under after 14 holes, fashioned behind a stretch of three birdies in four holes starting on No. 11.

But he drove into the deep rough en route to a bogey at the 15th hole, chipped and putted poorly for bogey at the next hole, and then butchered the final hole when he had to chop out of the rough and then three-putted from 30 feet for a double bogey that dropped him from the lead into the group at even par.

"The positive is that's the best I've played in a U.S. Open," Howell said. "But the wind dropped and I hit bad shots at probably the easiest part of the day. If you hit bad shots you're going to be punished. The finish was very frustrating for me."

Like Woods, Montgomerie got off to a tough start. But he was able to recover.

"Well, 69 is a good score under any circumstances," he said. "But it's really good when you're 2-over after three holes like I was. That wasn't too clever. But by the end of the day it was all right. I had a par save on No. 5 and that was big because going to 3-over would have been difficult. So a 10-footer to save par on [No.] 5 and then a birdie at the sixth got me back into things."

Montgomerie turned in 1-over, but came home in 33 with five one-putt greens on the back nine. He finished with 28 total putts.

Furyk bettered that effort with nine one-putt greens and 27 total putts.

"Good thing," he said. "If I didn't have 27 putts it would have been a rough day. I hit some solid iron shots that gave me some uphill chances [on the greens]."

Speaking of putting, Mickelson notched seven consecutive one-putts during his round, an indication of how well he chipped after missing 10 greens.

"Even par is a good score," the Masters champion said. "I happen to think over par is going to win it."

That remains to be seen, but Montgomerie certainly had no trouble putting the first round in perspective.

"When you've got the world's best players and there's one guy under par, it's got to be difficult," he said.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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