aiming for No.1 spot again
Colin Montgomerie can go top of the
Order of Merit with a win in the Murphys Irish Open, which starts today
at Fota Island Golf Club in County Cork.
Top two Retief Goosen and Ernie Els do not return to Europe until next months Barclays Scottish Open at
Loch Lomond, so defending champion Montgomerie will take over the No1 spot if
he collects the winners cheque for £266,666.
The Scottish player
is in a rich vein of form in Europe - having finished equal third, second, equal
second and fourth in his last four starts.
A missed cut in the US Open
at Bethpage was the only blot on his copybook, and after a week off he returns
to action at one of his favourite events.
Victory at Fota Island last year
was Montgomeries fourth in Ireland, after he had previously completed back-to-back
wins at Druids Glen in 1996 and 1997.
An opening-day 63 put him in
the drivers seat, and he had five shots in hand at the finish as he claimed
his first win in 13 months.
That success saw Montgomerie equal the record
of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, who have won three Irish
Faldo and Langer are absentees this week, but Ballesteros returns
to action after a break. While a win this year has so far proved elusive, Montgomerie
is a cumulative under par for those four events and is clearly the man to beat.
Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington, who tied for second last year alongside
Swedens Niclas Fasth, head the home challenge, and both have shown good
form of late.
Clarke picked up his first win of the season in convincing
style at The Compass Group English Open three weeks ago - and, although he was
never a threat at Bethpage, he still finished in the top 30.
man needed a birdie at the 36th hole just to make the cut at Fota Island last
year before blistering weekend rounds of 65 and 64 saw him jump through the field
into second place.
Clarke went one better the following week when his victory
at the Smurfit European Open was the first by an Irishman on home soil for 19
Harrington, whose father hails from Cork, certainly will not be
lacking in support if he is in contention on Sunday. He has finished in the top
ten in both majors this year, although he was disappointed to fade to joint seventh
Like Clarke, Harrington also took a week off after his exertions
in the United States. He finished second in both the Murphys Irish Open
and Smurfit European Open last year - two of seven runners-up finishes before
his long overdue win at the Volvo Masters.
Irelands third Ryder Cup
player, Paul McGinley, has had a lean time of it of late. Having missed just one
cut last season, McGinley has missed four in his last six starts.
with Langer, former winners Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal are absentees,
but the tournament has attracted a number of interesting players from overseas.
American veteran Fred Funk, who has won five times on the PGA Tour and
has career earnings in excess of $9 million, makes his first competitive appearance
in Ireland. The 46-year old is also in the field for Loch Lomond, where he will
be hoping to secure a place in the Open at Muirfield.
Former Walker Cup
team-mates Michael Hoey and Graham McDowell have also received sponsors
invitations. McDowell missed the cut in his professional debut at the Great North
Open last week, but his pedigree is beyond question.
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