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Montgomerie would rather miss Loch Lomond

Colin Montgomerie, the defending champion, has saidthat if he was less mindful of his responsibilities as Scotland’s leading golfer, he would probably have chosen to rest this week to concentrate his energies on preparing for the millennium Open at St Andrews.

Although Monty was anxious not to minimise the importance of the Standard Life Loch Lomond in his schedule, he admitted that in a perfect world he would prefer to follow the approach of Lee Westwood, who pulled out of the £1.1 million event yesterday, and enjoya few days off before heading for the Old Course.

"If only Loch Lomond wasn’t in the week before the Open, it would make life so much easier for me," saidthe Scot, who racked up another top-ten finish at the K Club tournament near Dublin at the weekend without ever finding top gear. "Could we please, please, have an event somewhere else in the week before the British Open? The way it works out for me,I have two very, very stressful weeks back-to-back.

"When you throw in the fact that I’m the defending champion at Loch Lomond, it just adds to the situation. The levels of expectation keep going up and,while you try your best, I’ll just have to wait and see how it all works out.

"However easy it might look to score 64, as I did on the last day a year ago, the truth is it wasn’t easy and took a lot out of me. Then you head off to the Openat Carnoustie and it just doesn’t happen for you.

"To be truthful, I’d rather Loch Lomond moved to another week in the year -it started off in September, remember - than the one before the Open. Unfortunately, we all know how wet it can be at Loch Lomond in the autumn, so I don’t suppose that’s likely to happen.

"Put it this way: if the Tour event wasn’t at Loch Lomond and we had one somewhere else, I would seriously think about having the week off. I can’t do that at Loch Lomond, as you know, because of all my obligations. This is a very demanding time for me - more tiring mentally than physically. There’s so much to cope with on and off the course."

Montgomerie,still looking for his first major title, performs less effectively in the Open than any other major. He has missed the cut in threeof the past five championships and believes that poor record may be down to thestrains of competing the week before in either the Standard Life or the Scottish Open.

Ironically, Monty did notintend to enter in 1999 and only changed his mind a few weeks beforehand. His reward was a sparkling triumph thanks to a closing 64,which produced his first individual win as a pro on home turf.

Now the Troon man is back and even keener to mount a successful defence of one of his most prized titles. "When you also look at the quality of the entry here with players such as David Duval, Phil Mickelson, Tom Lehman and Notah Begay all travelling from America, it gives Lyle Anderson [the owner of Loch Lomond] the kind of field he’s wanted for a long time. Ernie Els is also playing,which means that five out of the world’s top ten are in action.

"That’s fabulous and makes the tournament even more valuable in terms of world ranking points. As you know, my world ranking means more to me now than where I am in Europe’ Order of Merit.

"I want to be No2 in the world and feel that if Tiger keeps performing the way he’s done over the past few months,then being the best of the rest is a target worth aiming for.

"I’m defending against these fine golfers and it will be interesting to see how they do on my patch. Obviously, Lehman has won here before, Mickelson is always a threat and Duval is a very, very good player."

Apart from his golfing commitments, Montgomeriehas a number of pressing obligations to fulfil off the course this week. "I’ll be in the press tent with people from the Scottish Tourist Board trying to get more folk to come to Scotland and play the game," he said. "There’s also our bid for the 2009 Ryder Cup where we know that Carnoustie and St Andrews as well as Loch Lomond, Gleneagles and Turnberry have thrown their hats in the ring.

"I’m also opening a new golf academy at Turnberry on the Sunday before the Open, though in a Ryder Cup context I must say I’m not trying to vouch for one particular course. My job is simply to help bring the Ryder Cup to Scotland.

"That won’t be easy because Sweden are interested as well as Wales and the north-east of England. We’re going to have to fight for it."

As to his chances of hanging on to the Standard Lifetitle, Montgomerie says no-one should fall into the trap of thinking that the Open will be foremost in his mind over the next few days. "To be honest, I’m not even giving the Open a thought at the moment. I’ll only turn my attention to St Andrews when we get there next week.

"Happily, I’ve played at the Old Course often enough in the Alfred Dunhill Cup to only need a tune-up there. The practice rounds will be about deciding how far the ball goes when it lands on the green and how quickly it stops.

"If I can get myself in gear, I know I can win there. I don’t think I’m talking out of turn to suggest that’s possible. Right now, we’re all looking at one particular name [Tiger’s]. But don’t forget there are an awful lot of deep bunkers round the Old Course and he’ll be in oneor two of them, just like the rest of us.

"Possibly the attention on me will be less during the build-up than in the past, which could be helpful. I don’t think I’ll be paired with Tiger, which willbe great. I wouldimagine we’ll be in different halves ofthe draw.

"We’ll see how it all works out, but I’m really looking forward to the St Andrews Open.

"My new ball gives me another 20 yards, which is a great advantage round the Old Course. And I also expect to be able to stop the ball quicker on the greens than in the past. That will be another advantage because they’re going to have to tuck the pins away in some tricky positions just in case the wind doesn’t blow."

Before then, however, there is the little matter of trying to repeat last year’s success on the course at Loch Lomond - a trick that he has already pulled off at Wentworth, where he retained his Volvo PGA crown for the third season running.

 

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