'Little Nick' upstages big guns to grab two-shot lead
Thomas Bjorn and Colin Montgomerie may have little to say to each other. But they gave young Nick Dougherty plenty of encouragement in the third round at Laguna National yesterday. Then the Nick Faldo protege upstaged the two big guns with a three-birdie finish to grab a two-shot lead.
Bjorn and Montgomerie may not be so supportive today when the three go at it again for the US$166,000 first prize at the US$1 million tournament, co-sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours.
Dougherty, 22, admitted to nerves as he stood should-to-shoulder with Bjorn and Montgomerie in yesterday's third round, but his strong finish turned a two-shot deficit into a handy lead over the final three holes.
The Englishman, who started the day one shot clear of Montgomerie and three clear of Bjorn, finished with a four-under 68 for a three-round total of 203. Bjorn had seven birdies and an eagle in his 67, while Montgomerie posted a 69. Breathing down their necks were Sweden's Peter Hedblom (66) and Maarten Laferber (67) of the Netherlands, only a stroke back at 10 under.
'I was a bit shaky out there at the start,' Dougherty said. 'It is a lot of pressure because they are the guys I grew up watching on television and I admire both players tremendously.
'I have played with both of them before so I knew what was coming. Thomas is a great bloke. He was very supportive and said some nice things on the way round. Colin was also complimentary and courteous,' he added.
The happy-go-lucky Dougherty took the heat out of what could have been a combustible combination as Bjorn and Montgomerie have a history of antagonising each other.
'I felt like I held my own from tee to green,' Dougherty said. 'But I had a few twitches on a couple of long putts. I cherish the fact that if I am going to win this tournament I have to beat two of golf's top players. I love that. Having these two guys on my tail is fantastic. It is great fun and that's why I play this game.'
Fun was something Dougherty took to an extreme, until he reined in his wild days last year. 'I've had to make changes in my personal life,' he said. 'It has allowed me to be more relaxed on the course.
'My personal life has now got a bit of balance. I was in a relationship, but I didn't treat it the right way and I wasn't mature enough. If there was anything up for doing, I would do it and the next day I'd regret it and so that meant I was negative.
'I've been single for a while now because I needed to sort myself out and get some balance. I used to be really busy trying to fit everything and everybody in, but now all I concentrate on is doing things for me and golf.'
Dougherty is known as 'Little Nick' after being discovered and nurtured by six-time Major winner Nick Faldo.
'I had a lot of hype when I turned professional,' Dougherty said. 'The media coverage was fantastic, but I didn't believe deep down that I was that good. I was immature in a lot of ways in my golf game.
'I was in the dark. I made errors in my personal life at the start, then I got a bit sick and the next season I changed my swing. Hopefully, this is the start of the results coming.
'It was one of my dad's favourite sayings when he was angry at me that I believed my own press.'
Bjorn said his round had everything. 'There was a lot of good stuff, but a couple of mistakes as well. But it's nice when you have seven birdies and an eagle because you know you are doing things right. The important thing was not to play myself out of the tournament, but to be in with a chance tomorrow,' the Dane said.
'Nick played well all day. He didn't putt that well early on but he got what he deserved in the end.'
Montgomerie, who opened the tournament with all guns blazing in a seven-under 65, then turned the barrel on the media for daring to inquire about his second-round 71, said he was in a good position to retain his title.
'I came from four strokes back to win last year,' the 41-year-old Scot said. 'There's nothing wrong with my golf. It's just that I haven't holed enough birdies. There is everything to play for and I'm out again with Nick and Thomas and they are good to play with. I am in a much better position than last year. We'll just have to see what develops.'
Scotland's Andrew Coltart was recovering in a Singapore hospital yesterday after having his appendix removed in an emergency operation. Coltart, 34, was doubled up in pain after carding a second successive six-over-par 78. He returned to his hotel but was still in considerable pain when it was decided that he should go to hospital. Doctors then decided to remove his appendix. Coltart will remain in hospital for a few days.