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The Sawgrass Season
The Cal-Tex Masters and the Bay Hill Classic are simply Tour events; Sawgrass is something special for the field is absolutely select.

Although it was delicious to watch Monty win again, no meal must be made of an event made up of a virtually fallow field. Barry Lane and Greg Hanrahan proved the greater threats through three rounds but both collapsed to a last round 75 and 72 respectively. The Laguna National course in Singapore is a tough track, but even with Sunday's pin positions it is not the most demanding. Significantly, Monty's rounds reflect the application of a first class player, improving in every department of play with 71, 69, 67 and a final round 65 that gave him his three shot win - the forty-year-old's first tournament win in 18 months frustrating tournament play.

After a decade where winning was as routine as a body ablution, Monty lost his dominating place at the top of the European Tour. As he himself put it, 'little mistakes' crept into his game. His wording is perfect for it reflects how immune he has hitherto been from the concentration lapses that afflict others of comparable talent. Everyone who has ever played the game knows how fragile focus can be and it was clear that Monty was struggling to regain a focus that was starting to elude him as early as when he infamously shared the Volvo Masters title with Bernhard Langer in 2000.

Monty's win elevates him back into the world's top-50 and propels him into a place in the TPC at Sawgrass. With his new found confidence he will have a day at home in Surrey before jetting-off to Florida, doubtless with his heart on his sleeve, the hopes of Scotland on his back and no self-doubts in his head. 'I know that I can do this and keep on doing this,' he said after his win in Singapore. For someone so accustomed to winning ways this is understandable, but he only has to consider the passing of those that have gone before to appreciate that golf requires more than self-assurance.

Monty's career is as assuredly waning as Chad Campbell's is certainly waxing. Having made the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, Campbell has indubitably arrived and he looks every inch the right material. With his boy-next-door plumpy fresh faced good looks, his eagerness and his capacity to draw upon the right reverence after playing the first two rounds with his host, the legendary Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill, Chad is undoubtedly the lad.

Campbell carried the day at Bay Hill with characteristic metronome-like play, seeing off Stuart Appleby in the process. It has to be said that Campbell, despite coming from four shots behind Appleby in the last round, had it easy. Darren Clarke led after the first round, maintained his threat through the second before slumping to a 74 in the third. Appleby led after the third round but never looked the part as he nervously collapsed in the fourth. Scott Verplank and Adam Scott took joint third place but never really pressured in a desultory conclusion to the event. Indeed, without detracting from Campbell's six birdies in the last round to make a six shot win, there have been more exciting Bay Hill events.

Tiger Woods failed to make another entry in the record books for a five-in-a-row win at Bay Hill. He also failed to hit a great many fairways and greens. In his own words he is suffering from bad luck, which he believes to account for his ball coming to rest in water, out-of-bounds or in unplayable places. I was particularly pleased to hear this for I have experienced an entire lifetime of the fates conspiring against me and I had dismissed it as bad play.

But Bay Hill is one thing and Sawgrass another. Bay Hill may be a splendid place but the only thing it has in common with the TPC course at Sawgrass is that it occupies space in the same State. It is not without reason that the bookies have the Tiger at 7/2 favourite for the event although there are a goodly cluster of players, Darren Clarke included, at 40/1 that have to be a better bet.

©    23 - MARCH 2004

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