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Monty meets fans' approval

So far so good for Colin Montgomerie.

If he heard a peep out of the gallery Thursday in the first round of the Players Championship, he didn't let on. Of course, shooting 2-under 70 helped his disposition.

The sometimes dour Scot was in a good mood in his first round in the United States since a celebrated blowup last month at the Match Play Championship in Carlsbad, Calif., where he vowed to avoid American tournaments because of the treatment he has received from hecklers.

"Very positive. Very positive, indeed," Montgomerie said of his reception. "No reason that shouldn't remain. An awful lot of support. "I'm glad you're playing here.' "Good luck to you.' "I'm Scotch.' That's whiskey, but never mind."

Montgomerie is playing the next four weeks in the United States, including the Masters on April 11-14.

"We all regret certain things we've done in our lives," said the seven-time European PGA Tour money winner. "I'm certainly not perfect. We all regret some things we do and say in a public position. At the same time, I'm glad I'm here and playing well."

THE CLAW, PART II: Mark Calcavecchia has had success with the "claw" putting style. Now he has gone to the "belly button claw," with the handle of the putter against his stomach.

"I wasn't making anything all of a sudden," he said. "Doral was awful putting. Honda was painful. Putted really bad. I'd win that tournament if I putted anywhere decent. So I used three different putters last week at Bay Hill."

Calcavecchia experimented with the new style Monday in a practice round at Augusta National.

"And I made putts from everywhere," he said. "I think it's another revelation in my putting saga."

CAN I GET A MULLIGAN?: Vijay Singh lives in Ponte Vedra Beach and practices at the TPC at Sawgrass whenever he's in town. If not for a tee shot pulled into the water on the 14th hole in the final round last year, he might be the defending champion.

Singh finished second, one shot behind Tiger Woods, despite the triple-bogey 7. With the next week off, he returned to the scene of the crime.

"I probably hit 100 balls on that tee," he said. "I just stood there and just kept on hitting. And I could not hit a ball left even if I tried. It was just one of those things."

NOT THE SAME BIG EASY: Although he finished ninth at the Bay Hill Invitational, Ernie Els said he was not himself. After winning the Genuity Championship and traveling through nine time zones to Dubai, where he also won, he was a bit out of sorts upon returning to Orlando.

"Last week was kind of "get-over-the-jet-lag week,' " Els said before his round. "Hopefully this will be back-to-business week."

Apparently not. He shot 76.

_ BOB HARIG

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