At 53, Colin Montgomerie is a 500-1 shot to win The Open Championship. But he's playing on his home course and the fire to succeed still burns strong, writes Brendan James
BY BRENDAN JAMES at ROYAL TROON
Is it possible that Colin Montgomerie could win his first major championship at age 53?
Sure, he’s won three Senior major titles but for all his achievements in a professional career spanning nearly 30 years, he never won one of the big four. He’s played in 74 majors with ten top-10s and a handful of runner-up finishes.
He was second three times in the US Open (1994, 1997 and 2006) and was beaten in a play-off by Steve Elkington at the 1995 US PGA. In 2005, he was second again, five shots behind a rampaging Tiger Woods in The Open at St Andrews. ‘Monty’ was the best player of his generation not to win a major championship.
But he’s still holding out hope this week could be his week and he could be the 500-1 winner of the 145th Open Championship. It’s not such a silly notion when you consider the performances of Tom Watson in 2009 at Turnberry and Greg Norman a year earlier at Royal Birkdale, when both men contended for the game’s oldest trophy well beyond the twilight of their careers. Of course, the oldest winner of The Open was also a Scot, with Old Tom Morris winning the title in 1867 aged 46 years and 102 days.
At the height of his powers Montgomerie could have been accused of being his own worst enemy and critic. On the European Tour he was king, winning seven successive money list titles but on the big stage of the majors he did not live up to expectations – self or otherwise.
But it is a more laid back Monty who will play the opening tee shot of this championship on Thursday morning without any pressure on his shoulders.
“There's no pressure on me anymore. I used to put pressure on myself when I was two in the world coming here and expectations were high,” the Scot said.
“There's no question. And there's no pressure at 53 years old now. There's no pressure. I'm just going to enjoy it and take every par, every birdie, if they come along, as a bonus.
“My goal this week is to attempt to walk down 18 fairway on Sunday. That's the goal. Anything beyond that, again, would be a bonus.”
Without such a high level of expectation, Montgomerie says there is no reason at all why can’t do well at Royal Troon.
“No, there's no reason at all,” said Monty, who played his way into this championship through local qualifying at nearby Glasgow Gailes.
“I mean, if I play the way I did when I won the senior majors or I feel as if I'm playing as well as I did in 2005 when I finished second to Tiger there at St. Andrews, I don't feel there is any difference.
“The only difference possibly is length. I'm not hitting the ball as far as I did in comparison to the others in 2005. But knowing my way around here and hitting the ball well off the tee and my irons into the greens, and knowing where to miss the shots, there's no reason I can't do well here. No, no reason at all.
“You can't win if you're not playing, and that was the number one thing that I went to Glasgow Gailes to try to qualify for to make sure I got in, and then, okay, we can see what happens from then on.
“From the first shot, you get the first shot out of the way and all that goes with it, and then get on with the job of doing well. Yeah, doing as well as possible.”
Montgomerie does have the distinct advantage of knowing the Royal Troon course better than any other player in the 156-man field.
Born in Glasgow, Montgomerie lived in Troon full time in his early years before has family moved to Yorkshire. But he spent many summer holidays playing at Troon with his older brother, and father, James, later moved back to be begin his long reign as Royal Troon’s club secretary.
It was during one summer holiday that a six-year-old Montgomerie first learned how to swing a golf club on Troon’s children’s course. By the age of 12 he had progressed onto the adjacent Portland Course. He was first allowed to play the famed ‘Old’ course, which hosts the Open this week, when he turned 16.
Such childhood memories have been flooding back for Montgomerie during the past few weeks.
“It gets emotional in many ways when the Open comes to your hometown,” he said. “There are not many pros that have the opportunity to play an Open on their own course where they are members. So it's a great honour, for one, and I take it as such.
“We’re sitting on South Beach Road and the family house growing up was five houses from here. I could throw a ball from here to the house. So this is as close as you possibly get. I hit my first shot of golf when I was six years old on the children's course there, which is now the TV compound.
“So this is where I started playing. This is home.”
His connection with Troon extended well beyond his childhood. Montgomerie married his first wife, Eimear, in 1990 at the Troon Parish Church just down the road from the course before celebrating their wedding reception in the Royal Troon clubhouse overlooking the 18th green. He was also made an honorary member of the club in 1996.
To get his start this week, Montgomerie faced an anxious three-hour wait to learn whether he would make it through qualifying and admitted he wouldn’t have put himself through that agony if the Open was being played elsewhere.
“I was nervous having to wait. I was match eight and there were 24 matches, so there was a good three-hour wait, which was awful,” an animated Monty said.
“The reason I did try to qualify, and put my heart and soul into it, was because it was here, and knowing that this is the last time that I'll have the opportunity of playing at Troon.
“If it comes back every 12 years then I'll be out of the game competitively by then. So this was the last time here and possibly the last time I play in The Open. I won't be retiring from it but at the same time, it could well be the last. So it's a fantastic opportunity that it's here at Troon, at home, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Montgomerie will lead the field away at 6.35am on Thursday, alongside Luke Donald and Marc Leishman. The grandstands may not be full but standing behind the tee will be Monty’s 86-year-old father, who will be named the club president for a three-year term at a club general meeting month.
“He’ll be out on the first tee no doubt, and he’s got his position in the stand and in the clubhouse, but that’s it,” Montgomerie said. “I don’t think you’ll see him on the 9th green, as it’s about a three-mile hike out there. He will be around the first and 18th and be very proud.”