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Published: Friday, 6/16/2006

With no pressure, Montgomerie solid

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

MAMARONECK, N.Y. - Colin Montgomerie received a big confidence boost last year while posting a second-place finish in the British Open at St. Andrews in his native Scotland.

"It was nice to contend with Tiger [Woods] on a course that was built for him 200 years before he was born," Montgomerie said yesterday. "I think it was good for me to feel that I could still compete at that level because, you know, it had been a few years."

In regards to the U.S. Open, the 106th version of which began yesterday at Winged Foot, it has been a dozen years since Monty soared to a 78 and lost to Ernie Els in a three-way, 18-hole playoff at Oakmont. He finished second to Els again at Congressional in 1997. From 1992-97, the Scot reeled off four top-10 Open finishes.

Yesterday, he was the only competitor to break par. His 1-under 69 was good for a one-shot lead.

"I think the expectation of me in the '90s to win this thing was very high," he said. "I gave it a go a couple times. But I think I wanted it a bit too much then, and if you want something too bad sometimes it doesn't come to you.

"I think the expectation was lower this particular year, or for the last few years when I haven't contended. It does make a difference to be more relaxed. It's nice because I can go out and sort of free-wheel it and not worry about things the way I used to in the '90s.

"I think I put too much pressure on myself to win one of these things and it wasn't working, and possibly I didn't win because of that. Today, I felt I was swinging the club the way I did in the '90s, but I'm more relaxed on the course than I ever was before."

The fact that he's taking a more low-key, no-pressure approach doesn't mean that winning would mean any less.

"Never mind talking about winning; there's a long way to go," Montgomerie said. "But, yes, it would mean as much to me, of course it would. It would probably mean more to do it at 42 years old than at 32. You know, a big difference.

"But we've only walked seven miles. We have 21 miles to walk yet. We just have to be patient and relax. We'll see how it goes."

LATE SHIFT: Phil Mickelson carded a 70 during first-round play that started at 7:55 yesterday morning. He thinks he'll have a bit of an advantage starting today, when his tee time is scheduled for 1:25 p.m.

"I actually think [Winged Foot will] play a little bit easier," he said. "Based on my practice rounds, the wind always calmed down around 5 or 6 in the afternoon, the greens would get a little growth on them and slow up a bit. So I have a later tee time [today] and then hope to be in the last groups on Saturday and Sunday and I hope that will be an advantage.

"The same sort of thing happens at Augusta. About 6 o'clock the wind dies down, it's perfectly calm, you start hearing the birds chirping, and you try to take advantage and make some birdies the last five or six holes. I've found that Winged Foot is a lot like that."

LOST, FOUND: Toledo native John Cook spent three practice rounds trying to identify even one birdie hole at Winged Foot.

"I couldn't find any," he said.

Then he went out in the first round and made four birdies en route to a 1-over 71.

"There's not much out there, and it's difficult from the first tee ball on, but I hit a lot of quality shots," said the 49-year-old Cook. "That you're going to make bogeys out here goes without saying. But I didn't miss-hit a drive and hit a lot of good, long iron shots.

"I wouldn't be playing if I didn't think I was competitive. Whether I can win, I don't know."

CHIP SHOTS: Tadd Fujikawa, the 15-year-old Hawaiian who is the youngest-ever qualifier for an Open championship, scored a double bogey on the first hole and struggled to an 81. He was one of 22 players who posted scores of 80 or higher. One of the ugliest scorecards belonged to two-time Open champion Lee Janzen, who had 10 bogeys and a double bogey. The stroke average for the field of 156 players was 75.984 yesterday on the par-70 course. The first hole, a 450-yard par 4, surrendered only two birdies to the field.


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