Montgomerie moves up to challenge Faldo

COLIN Montgomerie rode his luck to the top of the Johnnie Walker Classic leaderboard yesterday and then vowed not to rest on his laurels over the final two rounds of Asia's biggest golfing extravaganza.

Despite finishing third on last year's European Order of Merit, the 29-year-old Scotsman failed to win a tournament - a fact that still rankles with him and a record he is anxious to end at this week's US$850,000 event. ''I have been close so many times, but possibly I've sat back when leading,'' admitted Montgomerie after firing a three-under-par 67 over the Singapore Island Country Club's Bukit Course.

That gave the European Ryder Cup player a 36-hole aggregate of 135 and a share of top place with England's world number one Nick Faldo. They are one shot clear of South African Ernie Els and South Korea's Choi Sang-ho. Scotland's Sam Torrance is fifth on 137 after blazing his way to a course record 64 with American world number two Fred Couples and Peter Senior of Australia in joint sixth on 138.

Thailand's Boonchu Ruangkit - joint overnight leader with Faldo, Senior and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke - shot a 72 and is level with Australian Greg Norman and Frankie Minoza of the Philippines in joint eighth on 139.

Welshman Ian Woosnam is a further stroke back after a day when scores improved from the first round and the half-way cut for the leading 65 players and ties came at 145. Defending champion Ian Palmer of South Africa made it through on 144 after a second successive 72, while Irishman Clarke squeezed in on 145 after a 78 - 11 shots worse than his opening-day effort.

Among those to miss out were Seve Ballesteros. The Spaniard, who will make his Hongkong debut in next week's Kent Open at Fanling, could only manage a 76 for a total of 147. Despite continued steamy conditions, scoring generally was lower. In addition to Torrance's 64, Els and Couples both returned 65s.

However, it is Faldo and Montgomerie, among Europe's most consistent and adaptable players, who head the chase for the US$150,000 first prize. While Faldo is already being tipped as an overwhelming favourite to add the 1993 Classic crown to the one he wonin Hongkong in 1990, Montgomerie believes it may be him in the winner's enclosure come tomorrow evening. ''I didn't have much luck last year and I think deserve a little bit,'' said Montgomerie who during 1992 was well poised to win the Scottish Open, Swiss Open, US Open and Volvo Masters.

Although he won plenty of money, he ended up trophy-less. Said Montgomerie: ''I learned last year that when you're in a winning position you can't sit back and rest on your laurels and simply go for pars. I realise that I need to dip more at the line. I've been going 98 yards and then stopping.'' If Montgomerie was looking for a sign that his fortunes were on the upswing it came yesterday at the ninth hole - his final hole of the day.

From 20 yards off the green he holed out with his wedge. ''I had a bad lie and I had to hit it hard,'' said Montgomerie, who watched with joy as the ball struck the flagstick and dropped into the hole. ''If it hadn't hit the middle of the pin it would have gone 20 or 30 feet past the hole,'' he said. That was the fourth and final birdie in a solid round in which the solitary blemish came at the 10th - his first of the day - where he pushed his drive into a bunker and failed to make the green in regulation.

Faldo, meanwhile, ensured that he would not be dislodged from top place with successful birdie putts from 15 feet and 10 feet at the final two holes for a round of 68. He said: ''I was manoeuvring the ball well and hit some good shots. The greens were drying out and were very hard.'' Not that Els or Choi appeared to encounter too many problems with them. Said Els: ''We play on greens like this in a couple of tournaments in South Africa so they are not really foreign to me.

The secret is you have to read the grass, not the slopes.'' Choi certainly read them right, holing a monster 50 footer for a birdie at the fourth and two other putts of more than 20 feet. ''I was really in control today and my putting was extremely good.''