SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Colin Montgomerie and John Daly would seem to have little in common except for their names atop the leaderboard at the American Express Championship.

Montgomerie plots his way around the golf course, and while Friday was a battle with jet lag, he scrambled well enough for a 1-under 69 at Harding Park that left him one shot clear of Daly and David Howell of England, with Tiger Woods and five others another shot behind.

Daly swings for the fences, and he drove the green on a par 4 for the second straight day, this one on the 336-yard 16th as Woods was lining up a birdie putt ahead of him.

Montgomerie and Daly will be in the final group Saturday of this World Golf Championship, along with Howell, connected not only by their tee time but by a desire to bounce back from tough times.

“Both of us have had plenty of divorces, so we can always talk about that,” Daly cracked after his 67. “I’ve had a lot more than he has.”

The reference was to Montgomerie going through a very public divorce last year that contributed to a plunge in the world rankings, all the way down to No. 83 for a proud Scot who for years was the elite among Europeans.

Daly has gone through all that and more – three divorces, two stints in alcohol rehab, one PGA Tour suspension, two major championships and plenty of entertainment along the way.

“You get lonely,” Daly said. “I’ve been through it a lot and I know what he went through. It’s great to see him come back. I’m sure he would love to get a win on U.S. soil. My hat’s off to him.”

Montgomerie is recovering quite nicely, winning last week on the European tour for the first time in 19 months and carrying the confidence that comes with trophies across eight time zones to San Francisco.

He was four shots worse Friday than his opening round, yet he felt even better about his chance to win for the first time in the United States. He refused to let a scrappy round get away from him, and he turned a big mess into a little one on the 18th by making a 4-footer for bogey that put him at 7-under 133.

“Overall, that’s as good a round of golf as it was yesterday,” Montgomerie said. “It was more of a battle today. I didn’t get off to the flying start I did yesterday, so it was tougher, very much tougher. I’m as glad with that round today as I was yesterday, so I’m still in contention.”

Then again, so are two dozen other players.

Harding Park, the municipal course with a $16 million makeover, has proven to be a worthy test through two rounds. It allows for good scores, dishes out bogeys with the slightest mistake and has so far kept anyone from running away from the field.

The result was 13 players within three shots of the lead, and 29 players only five shots behind.

One of them is Woods, who thought this might be his day to shoot to the top. He was wild off the tee at times, but not on the 344-yard seventh hole, when Woods noticed the tees about 25 yards up. He ripped his driver through the fog and knew it was good when he heard a gallery standing six-deep behind the green roar. The ball landed softly on the green 12 feet away to set up an eagle, and when he birdied the par-5 10th, he was tied for the lead.

But there were too many mistakes – missing the green with a lob wedge and a 9-iron – and he had to settle for a 68 that left him at 135 with a large group that included Mark Calcavecchia (68), Jim Furyk (67) and 23-year-old rookie Sean O’Hair (67).

“I turned a really good round into an OK round,” Woods said. “Today I thought was my opportunity to do what Monty did yesterday. I made quite a few mistakes.”

Montgomerie made his share, none worse than finding the rough on the par-5 10th and taking bogey on the easiest hole at Harding Park. But he held it together, with birdies on 16 and 17, and escaped an adventure through the rough on the 18th to get bogey.

And with that, Monty was ready for a nap.

“The jet lag is kicking in now and I’m very tired,” Montgomerie said. “I just left (Scotland) too late, unfortunately. My first win in 19 months needed celebration. I need to see my children on Monday night, so I flew here Tuesday.”

Once he got on his British Airways flight, too much fuel was pumped into the wing, and that caused a four-hour delay, so he didn’t arrive until late Tuesday afternoon.

But he can sleep on a lead, in good position to contend for a World Golf Championship.

It might be daunting to see Daly smashing drives down the tree-lined fairways, or to look over his shoulder at Woods only two shots behind, with Sergio Garcia, David Toms and Vijay Singh still within range.

But that’s assuming Harding Park allows anyone to make a move.

“This is a sneaky top golf course,” O’Hair said. “You really have to play a great round to break away from the pack. It brings out the most consistent player. It’s not a course that lets out a 62 unless someone plays awesome.”

B>Divots:P> Calcavecchia had an embarrassing moment on the ninth tee during his pre-shot routine. He looked down the fairway and waggled the club, only to have it nick the ball about 5 feet off the tee. Because he didn’t address the ball, he was able to replace it on the tee with no penalty. That’s a rule Calcavecchia knows well. “I did that one other time at the Hope and almost hit it about 60 yards, almost killed about six old people on the right at Bermuda Dunes,” he said. “I’m glad I don’t do that very often.” … Daly is thinking about joining the European tour if he doesn’t win this week. He needs only two more European tour events to have the 11 required for membership.

AP-ES-10-07-05 1907EDT


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