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Montgomerie makes first European start

Colin Montgomerie will make his first appearance on the European PGA Tour this year when the 1.1 million euro Italian Open begins Thursday at the Gardagolf Country Club.

While ``Monty'' did play in the Masters -- failing to make the cut -- and several other tournaments on U.S. soil earlier this year, he has not appeared on this side of the Atlantic.

After playing with some new irons in Wednesday's pro-am, the Scot said he was looking forward to putting a string of poor performances in the United States behind him.

``It's a big difference for me, if I play relaxed golf I play good golf,'' he said. ``I don't feel I have anything to prove here.

``In America I always have the tag that I've never won there and you're always trying to prove something, here you don't have to. It is much easier for me here.

``Having reflected on it, I think I stayed in America for a couple of weeks too many.''

While he is often heckled for his poor play in the United States, Montgomerie is revered in Europe for winning seven successive Order of Merit titles from 1993 to 1999.

Another headliner at the 7,112-yard par-72 Gardagolf course will be England's Ian Poulter, who has won the Italian Open two out of the past three years.

In November, Poulter beat Scotland's Paul Lawrie by two strokes in the rain-shortened event at Olgiata Golf Club near Rome.

This year, the tournament has been moved up to a much more favorable spot in the Tour's calendar.

Emanuele Canonica, who tied for third at Olgiata, will again be the leading local contender. No Italian has won since Massimo Mannelli took the honor 23 years ago.

The tournament was last held at this northern Italian course in 1997, when Germany's Bernhard Langer shot a course-record 64 in the final round to edge Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal by one stroke.

Montgomerie (19) and Argentine Ricardo Gonzalez (91) are the only members of the world's top 100 entered.


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