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Colin Montgomerie raises targets

After experiencing the giddy highs and bitter lows of professional golf over the last five weeks, Colin Montgomerie is on the brink of returning to the world's top 20.

The 42-year-old Briton, boosted by one of his best displays with the putter in a long while, fired a pair of closing two-under-par 68s to tie for ninth at the WGC-NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio on Sunday.

That performance, in one of the game's most prestigious events, lifted him to 22nd in the world when the official rankings were announced on Monday.

Montgomerie's goal at the start of the year had been to work his way back into the top 25 from a lowly 83rd. With that now achieved, he has set his sights on the top 10 and on clinching the European Tour order of merit for a record eighth time.

"I think I have the game to return to the top 10 and that would be a huge achievement for me," the Scot told Reuters.

"I started the year in 83rd place, a very, very different position for me, and it's great to have moved up two spots this week," added Montgomerie, who was second in the world rankings in 1996 and 1997.

Europe's number one for seven years in a row from 1993, the Briton believes an eighth order of merit crown is within his grasp.

"I am very excited about the next two months and number eight would mean so much to me after a five-year gap," he said.

After ruling the roost in Europe until the end of 1999, Montgomerie struggled in 2003 and 2004. Only one title came his way, at the 2004 Singapore Masters, and his form suffered with a public divorce last year.

This year, however, has been very different. Helped by his second place behind winner Tiger Woods in last month's British Open at St Andrews, he lies third in the European money list with earnings of 1.54 million euros ($1.89 million).

U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell leads the standings on 1.77 million with South Africa's Retief Goosen second on 1.55 million.

Montgomerie's British Open finish was his seventh top 10 of the year in Europe but his fortunes plummeted in his next two starts.

He injured his right hand when playing a driver from the fairway in the opening round of the Johnnie Walker Championship in Scotland and was forced to pull out after 13 holes.

The following week, he took part in the U.S. PGA Championship at Baltusrol, New Jersey where he missed the cut after scores of 77 and 71.

To his credit, he refused to use his hand injury as an excuse and decided to travel to Akron for last week's tournament where his closing rounds put a smile on his face.

"Two 68s is good," he told reporters at Firestone Country Club after finishing at two-under 278, four strokes adrift of winner Woods.

"I needed that for world ranking points. I missed out last week, but two 68s is good. My hand is fine and two under around here is a good effort.

"Plus I putted well. That's the best putting tournament I've had in America for about 10 years."

Montgomerie will take the next two weeks off before returning to action at next month's German Masters in Cologne.

That will be the start of a six-week run for him ending at the October 13-16 Madrid Open, and perhaps with his return to the top of the European order of merit.


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