Colin Montgomerie knows of major heartache


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There is a certain amount of irony that Colin Montgomerie, one of Europe's greatest all-time players, will be making his Champions Tour debut at Fox Chapel Golf Club.

He won't be far from Oakmont Country Club, scene of one of his many disappointments in major championships.

For all of his grand achievements -- a record eight European Tour Order of Merit titles, 31 European Tour victories, a World Golf Hall of Fame induction -- Montgomerie is sometimes best known as a player who never won a major title. He has finished second five times in major tournaments and has nearly as many U.S. Open heartaches as Phil Mickelson.

What's more, despite once being the No. 2-ranked player in the world, he has never won a tournament on the PGA Tour or on North American soil, and has often been the target of derisive comments by American galleries.

PG graphic: Fox Chapel Golf Club
(Click image for larger version)

Montgomerie is hoping all that will change when he plays in the 30th Constellation Senior Players Championship that begins Thursday at Fox Chapel, especially the part about winning a major title. Montgomerie turned 50 today.

"You know, right now I'm playing against guys that are well under half my age," Montgomerie said. "I've got children older than them, and it doesn't seem fair. So at least when I get to America on Monday, into Pittsburgh, I feel that I'm on more of a level playing field. I really look forward to it."

Montgomerie's presence at Fox Chapel will add to a field that includes such former major champions as Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Mark O'Meara and Mark Calcavecchia, among others.

And, even though Montgomerie has a bag full of disappointments in the majors, he is considered one of the greatest Ryder Cup players of all time. Monty is undefeated in singles (8-0), holds a record of 20--9--7 and his 231/2 total points are second to the all-time record held by Nick Faldo.

Still, when he gets to Fox Chapel, he will feel very much the role of rookie.

"I don't know Fox Chapel, so I would be on the range and feeling a [like] new boy, very much so," said Montgomerie, who is still a card-carrying member of the European Tour. "I never joined the PGA Tour full time and this is the first time that I've actually joined a tour in America, and I really look forward to it, I really do.

"And what I've heard from people over in America, especially last week when I was over at the U.S. Open, was super. You know, people seem to be looking forward to me competing in America as I am coming over and trying to compete. So it's a fantastic opportunity for me to come over and try and play."

And Montgomerie even thinks his one-time contentious relationship with American galleries will change, too.

"I think over the years I was a threat, I suppose, when I got to No. 2 in the world to Greg Norman, and, of course, I was quite a threat. If there was a target, I suppose I was it. And over the last eight years maybe since I've been coming over to America playing in Tiger's event ... the crowd reaction has been very supportive and I think they respect what I've achieved more and I have played the part and have witnessed a differing view toward me.

"So I look forward to that continuing on the Champions Tour and really, really look forward to playing a role with the crowd, getting involved with the crowd and involving them in the game. I think that my personality will show through on that stage as opposed to the intensity of trying to win a major on the so-called proper tour, on the PGA Tour."

Close calls

An argument could be made that Montgomerie is the best player in the history of golf to never win a major. But he has had a number of excellent chances, one of which came at Oakmont in the 1994 U.S. Open.

There were others:

• In the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, it looked as if Montgomerie was headed for his first major when he shot 70 on a wind-blow day to jump over 25 players. Even Jack Nicklaus, serving as a commentator in the television tower, prematurely congratulated Montgomerie as the winner. But Tom Kite, who was still on the golf course when Montgomerie finished, won by two shots.

• At the 1995 PGA Championship at Riviera, Montgomerie birdied the final three holes in the final round, to tie Steve Elkington at 17 under, a record-low score in a major championship. Montgomerie lost on the first sudden-death playoff hole when Elkington holed a birdie putt of 35 feet to claim the title.

• Three years after his playoff loss to Els at Oakmont, Montgomerie lost to the South African again at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional when he bogeyed the 71st hole to drop one shot behind Els, who parred the final hole to win.

• In the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, a tournament remembered for Mickelson's epic collapse at the final hole, people forget that Montgomerie made double bogey from the middle of the fairway at the 72nd hole, missing the green with a 7-iron. Montgomerie had just made an improbable 50-foot birdie putt at the previous hole to tie Mickelson for the lead. He ended up finishing second to Geoff Oglivy. Afterward, Montgomerie said wryly, "I look forward to coming back here again next year and trying another U.S. Open disaster."

"You know, I had a great career, a great normal career, if you like, and I would get to No. 2 in the world and now being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a great honor," Montgomerie said. "But, of course, there's always an omission, isn't there, when you talk about me. There's a lack of a major championship.

"All I can do now, from now on, is hopefully add a major championship to the resume already in place and I look forward to trying to achieve that."

Then he added, "There are more golfers over 50 in the world than there are under and it would be fantastic to try and achieve the dream of winning a major championship finally, whether it be normal tour or senior tour, I do look forward to it."

Monty had a great chance at Oakmont in the 1994 U.S. Open.

He shot 65 in the second round to take a two-shot lead on three players, including Hale Irwin. He was tied for third, two shots behind Els, after shooting 73 in the third round. But he shot 70 in the final round to finish tied with Loren Roberts (70) and Els (73), creating the first three-way playoff at a U.S. Open in 31 years.

Curiously, Roberts had a chance to win outright at the 72nd hole, but he missed a 4 1/2-foot par putt at No. 18. Unaware that Roberts had missed and needing only a par at the final hole to win, Els snapped his tee shot at No. 18 in the left rough, played out short of the green and made bogey.

On Monday, in the stifling heat, Montgomerie stood out because he was dressed in all-black. But it wasn't by design. The black shirt was the only clean shirt Montgomerie had left in his suitcase.

Monty played as if he was wilting in the heat. He made double bogeys at Nos. 2 and 3 and again at No. 11 and shot 78.

Els, who began the playoff with a bogey at No. 1 and a triple bogey at No. 2, shot 74 and was tied with Roberts at the end of the regulation playoff. Now into sudden death, Els won on the second extra hole when he two-putted for par at No. 11.

"I do hope it's not going to be as warm as that. That was boiling, so let's hope it's not quite as warm as 1994," Montgomerie said about his return to Western Pennsylvania. "And let's hope for a better result than finishing second.

"But, at the same time, you know, it means a lot to me coming back to Pittsburgh. It's strange that the only course I played in Pittsburgh is Oakmont and I look forward to seeing the nuances of Fox Chapel. I hear the course is in excellent condition and one of the best conditioned courses that you have on the Champions Tour, so I look forward to competing."

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Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com or Twitter @gerrydulac.


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