Montgomerie managed to outplay Tiger Woods for one day Saturday, giving him some hope that finally winning a British Open might not be as unthinkable as before.
His steady play while paired with Woods was inspiring for a player who, at the age of 42, is still trying to win his first major title.
``Not just for this Open,'' Montgomerie said, ``but for my career I suppose.''
It's not the first time Montgomerie has been close in majors. He tied for second in a playoff in the U.S. Open in '94, lost another playoff in the PGA in '95, and was runner-up in the U.S. Open in 97. Four years ago in the British Open at Royal Lytham, he led after two rounds but finished in a tie for 13th.
No nerves this time.
``It was a challenge for me,'' he said. ``In the third round of majors before where I've been in contention, a few lately ... I sort of haven't performed to my ability. And I did today.''
Credit the boisterous Scottish fans, who cheered his every shot -- from every tee and green. When he needed a boost, he got it.
``It should be that way,'' Woods said, ``He's native born. He's never won a major championship, this is the home of golf and this is his best chance in a long time.''
After hitting a poor approach from the 15th fairway, Montgomerie slammed his club into the ground, taking a chunk out of the hard turf. Seconds later, three teenage boys draped in the Scottish blue-and-white flag, urged him on: ``Come on Monty, do it for Scotland.''
On the 7th tee, a fan screamed out, reminding he'd made a 6-1 wager on the Scotsman. ``You're under pressure now.''
Across the tee, Montgomerie cracked a smile.
``It's so exiting and so lovely to feel the warmth of support, I suppose from a whole nation,'' he said, ``because golf is our national sport here.''
Grinding it out on hard fairways and firming greens, with the wind picking up after the first few holes, Montgomerie stayed free of trouble. Following back-to-back birdies on 9 and 10 that moved him to within one stroke of Woods, he walked directly toward the gallery on the 11th tee, head up, mouthing ``thank you, thank you.''
The mood shifted quickly when he three-putt from a deep swale on No. 11 for bogey.
But each time he faltered, he lifted himself -- or at least he didn't crash.
After tipping his white visor to a standing ovation coming down the 18th fairway, he and Woods responded in kind. Woods made birdie, rolling a 150-foot approach putt close enough for a tap-in.
Monty then dropped his own birdie from 30 feet, turned both arms upward and looked to the sky. The gallery roared another ovation.
``I've got myself into position where, with a good round tomorrow, I can win,'' he said.
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