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Colin Montgomerie, hearing the loudest cheers of his career, stays in the lead.

[AP photo]
Colin Montgomerie scrambles out of trouble on hole No. 3. "I've played an awful lot worse than this and won tournaments," he said.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 21, 2001


LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Colin Montgomerie heard the roars on every side of him. The difficult part now is not looking back.

"Having to always look over one's shoulder is never an easy task," Montgomerie said.

photo
Pierre Fulke, here at No. 17, trails Montgomerie by a stroke going into today's third round of the British Open.
Especially in a British Open.

With Tiger Woods lurking just four strokes back.

Riding an emotional groundswell he has never felt, Montgomerie delivered 1-under 70 Friday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, giving him a one-stroke lead over Pierre Fulke going into the weekend.

At every turn, the enormous gallery cheered Montgomerie as if that support alone could carry him to his first major championship.

If only it were that easy.

Still ahead of him were 36 holes. Not far behind was Woods, whose six major championships are six more than Montgomerie can claim.

"I've won major championships and I've won the Open. That in itself relieves a lot of tension, a lot of pressure, because you know what it takes," Woods said. "If you haven't won one, it becomes a little more difficult."

That's what awaits Montgomerie this weekend.

He has won an Open from start-to-finish as recently as three weeks ago, only it was the Irish Open. He says he is playing as well now as he has in some of the 30 tournaments he has won around the world.

"In fact, I've played an awful lot worse than this and won tournaments," he said. "I feel quite comfortable at this stage."

But this is a major championship, and Montgomerie conceded it's new territory for him.

It isn't for Woods.

Trying to become the first player in 18 years to successfully defend the Open, Woods birdied all the par 5s and escaped with only a bogey on a problematic 15th hole for a 3-under 68 and 139 for the tournament.

Montgomerie, at 7-under 135, didn't know Woods' score until later. He never heard cheers for Woods because his gallery never stopped roaring. He studied every scoreboard and never saw Woods' name because there wasn't room with six players in front of him.

"What is he, 3 under, 4 under?" Montgomerie asked.

Told that Woods was 3 under, he nodded.

"Well, that's great. Thank God he's not 4."

This is the first time Montgomerie has led a major after 36 holes since the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he lost in a playoff to Ernie Els.

"It is tiring," Montgomerie said of the prospect of going wire-to-wire.

Carrying him along was a British gallery that offered thunderous ovations at the mere sight of the 38-year-old Scot.

None of the six players between Montgomerie and Woods has won a major. Some are barely known outside of Europe, and the lone American in the mix, Joe Ogilvie, is in his second major.

Fulke, who clinched a spot on his first Ryder Cup team by finishing second at the Match Play Championship in Australia, had a bogey-free 67 and closed with seven straight pars.

Jesper Parnevik, Greg Owen and Ogilvie each had 68-137, and Eduardo Romero, Niclas Fasth and Alex Cejka were another stroke back.

Woods has company at 139 -- he'll play with friend and former Open champion Mark O'Meara, who had 69.

Parnevik has had two good chances at winning the British Open since 1994, but Woods was the name that jumped out at Montgomerie.

"I'm happy he's behind me. I will be happier on Sunday if he's behind me," Montgomerie said. "We all have an eye on him. He's the best player in the world by some margin."

It was hardly a spectacular round by Woods, not even as good as the 66 he shot in the second round at Lytham in 1996 when he was a 20-year-old amateur. Still, the mistakes were minimal.

His worst drive, on No. 14, led to a birdie, but only because it went so far right that it landed in a patch of hay trampled by the gallery. His wedge cleared a pot bunker 111 yards away and stopped 20 feet from the cup.

The round could have fallen apart on the next hole when Woods hit out of a divot into rough so thick, all he could do was chop it into a bunker by the green. But he blasted out to 6 feet and holed the putt.

Montgomerie's closest call was on the par-5 seventh. HIs approach was headed into the gallery and waist-high grass but caromed out and rolled down a carpeted path away from danger. Another approach on No. 11 rolled up the sodded wall and out of a bunker.

The crowd let out another roar, a sound Montgomerie came to know well.

"May it long continue," he said.

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