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Clarke and Monty relish U.S. Open assault

English Open winner Darren Clarke and European number one Colin Montgomerie head for next week's U.S. Open with confidence.

The Ryder Cup pair have produced a string of impressive performances over the past month and both believe the testing Pinehurst layout in North Carolina will suit their game.

Clarke, who suffered a disastrous start to the year, has bounced back with finishes of joint-20th, seventh, 13th and a two-shot victory at Hanbury Manor in his last four events.

"I wasn't particularly looking forward to going to the U.S. Open but now I'm striking the ball a lot better and it's a very different story," Clarke said.

"I let a few shots go but, overall, I hit it pretty well last week. I hit a lot of fairways so I'm really looking forward to getting back into it again."

The Northern Ireland player sees Pinehurst as a course on the lines of Sunningdale and Wentworth.

"How they set it up is anybody's guess but, if it's set up the way I expect it to be set up, it would be very much like either Sunningdale or Wentworth in feel. I have always liked that sort of course and I think Pinehurst would suit most of the Europeans as well," Clarke said.

Montgomerie, with his metronomic accuracy both off the tee and from the fairway, has always been viewed as the ideal golfer for the tight U.S. Open courses.

Yet the Scot, who has won twice in his last four European appearances, has recently taken on the mantle of the 'nearly man' as far as the middle U.S. major of the year is concerned.

He lost against Ernie Els in a play-off in 1994 and then finished second again behind the South African at Congressional in 1997.

Many believe Montgomerie, trying to be become the first British winner of the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin 29 years ago, has developed something of a mental block about winning in America.

The player disagrees. "I've been very close a few times and I just love the U.S. Open. I'd love to win it and I believe I can win it. And I believe this year I'm going there with as much confidence as I can."

The Scot, who has led the European Order of Merit for a record six years in a row, is back on top of the money list after victories in the Benson and Hedges International Open and the British PGA at Wentworth last month.

Europe's top player, who is taking a break this week, knows he will arrive at Pinehurst as one of the favourites -- along with the likes of Els, Tiger Woods, who has won his last two tournaments, and David Duval.

"It would be nice to become the first British winner there since Tony Jacklin, but favourites don't always come through in golf. But I must admit I'm going there even more confident than I was at Congressional two years ago."

 

Reuters