- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

GULLANE, Scotland Golf's favorite target finally fired back.
Scotland's Colin Montgomerie made a mockery of Muirfield yesterday, posting a tournament-best 64 on the 7,034-yard, par-71 layout to surge into the weekend mix at the 131st British Open.
"This happens to be my lowest score in an Open," said the 39-year-old Monty, who began the day 3 over but now finds himself trailing the quintet of midpoint leaders by only two strokes at 4 under. "The opening 74 was so disappointing, and I wanted to go out and prove to myself that I can still do this and compete at this level. A 64 proves I can play the game, and I'm looking forward to the weekend."
Nobody in the game can touch Monty for mood swings. Before leaving the course after his 74 Thursday, he told BBC-TV he was "emotionally crushed" and cursed out the crew from Britain's Radio 5 after an interview request.
After yesterday's bogey-free brilliance, he was equally sunny, grinning uncontrollably and generally behaving like the poster child for schizophrenia. He even popped over to Radio 5 to apologize for Thursday night's row.
"I've just spoken to Radio 5 live and peace has broken out," said Montgomerie, who switched to a new set of Callaway clubs before yesterday's near-perfect performance. "I was fortunate to have played late-early. If I had a late tee time today, I would have had 24 hours-plus to dwell on a 74, and I would have read your newspapers probably. Instead, I didn't have time to dwell on it, so I just had room service last night, had a good think and went out this morning and played great."
It has always been astonishing that a player so talented can also be so emotionally fragile. That suspect constitution is undoubtedly the reason Monty has never won a major, despite 26 victories in Europe and a record seven-year run at the top of the Order of Merit (1993-99).
Last year's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes was a perfect microcosm of Monty's entire major career. After leading for the first 36 holes, the volatile Scot openly questioned his own grit and then proceeded to shoot 73-72 on the weekend, plummeting to a 13th-place finish because of putting he labeled "beyond criminal."
"Leading an Open for that length of time is very difficult," Montgomerie said. "Coming from behind and shooting 64 on a Friday morning is a lot easier. Hopefully, if I do get in that position again, leading, then I can look back on what happened last year and I can use it positively."
Such optimism strikes a false note coming from Monty, the man who stated earlier this week that Tiger Woods would beat him "10 times out of 10" if they both played their best golf. Still, one would like to believe the man capable of coming within one stroke of the course record on one of the most difficult layouts in the world would be capable of keeping his emotions in check over the weekend.
"I want to keep this momentum going," Montgomerie said. "I know I can win one of these majors. I've never been frightened of winning ever. And I've never been frightened of winning here."
Unfortunately, we've heard these searching pep talks before from golf's tragic jester. One moment, things are hopeful, all things possible. Then he hits a wayward shot or two, his countenance darkens and his confidence vanishes quicker than sunshine on the Scottish coast. But perhaps this time is different. After all, Monty does have Andy Prodger on his bag this week. Prodger caddied Nick Faldo to victory at Muirfield in 1987, and nobody knows better how to deal with a suspect psyche.
"He was with somebody very different then in Faldo, but it is good to have somebody on the bag who has won here before," Montgomerie said. "It is very encouraging and very positive for me. We can get our way around here. We can find our way around here. We did today."
The Price of putting
Nick Price figures Muirfield could be the site of his fourth major victory.
The 45-year-old Price, describing "every swing as a mystery," salvaged a 70 for a 138, two strokes off the lead. Price, who won the British Open in 1994 and finished second twice, believes his age and longer courses limit his chances of winning another major. At 7,034 yards, Muirfield offers hope.
"I'm probably down to about two now," Price said. "At the U.S. Open and Masters, I don't have a prayer unless I get a bazooka for a driver. The game is becoming more of a smash from the tee, and when you've got fairways that are 80 yards wide at Augusta, it's just all about brute force."
Price relies on finesse, accuracy and distance control, qualities demanded at Muirfield. He's also a streaky putter, and yesterday he had his best putting day of the year in a streak that's lasted about nine weeks.
"I'm putting so well that if I get the ball on the green in regulation I feel I've got a good chance of making it," said Price, who made birdie putts of 35 feet and 25 feet on the opening holes to start quickly.
"Today, I could have blown myself out of the tournament if I hadn't putted well."
Blast from the past
The scouting report on Corey Pavin is that the game has passed him by, that the former U.S. Open champion didn't have the power or length to contend in the majors.
Muirfield is another story. Pavin, who hasn't finished higher than 10th in his last 21 majors, had a 69 and was only three strokes out of the lead going into the weekend.
"Muirfield is a great-looking golf course," he said. "It's not that long and it's very difficult, and that's a great testament."
Pavin ranked 194th in driving distance last year, even though he is working on swing changes to get a little more length. He did manage to make the cut at Bethpage Black, the longest course in U.S. Open history, although he finished 17-over.
It's about time
Nick Faldo had a 69 that left him six strokes out of the lead, but he had reason to celebrate: He finally broke a British Open record he has shared for six years with Jack Nicklaus.
It was the 34th round in the 60s at the British Open for the three-time champion. Nicklaus, also a three-time Open winner, had 33 rounds in the 60s.
"Any time you can beat one of Jack's records, it's really nice," Faldo said.
It took him long enough.
Faldo tied the Nicklaus mark with a 68 in the third round at Royal Lytham in 1996. It was his first sub-70 score in 19 rounds at the British Open.
Drinks on Nick
If Faldo wins the British Open, drinks will be on the house.
Only he won't be picking up the tab.
Scottish whiskey maker Famous Grouse is offering a free drink to the first 300 people who arrive at their tent at Muirfield.
Faldo has won twice at Muirfield in 1987 and 1992. He also won at St. Andrews in 1990.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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