Golf: The Open - Sorry run rolls on for Montgomerie

Open Championship
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IN EUROPE Colin Montgomerie is a colossus. The perennial winner of the Order of Merit, he is regarded by his contemporaries as being in a class of his own. Until, that is, it comes to the Open Championship. His record is wretched. He has played in 10 Opens and his only top-10 finish was joint eighth at Turnberry in 1994. He has missed the cut on five occasions.

The paradox about Montgomerie is that he is one of the most confident players in the game, his faith in his own considerable ability absolute. Montgomerie went into the 128th Open in peak form, having won the Standard Life Tournament at Loch Lomond in brilliant style.

Yet at Carnoustie, as at St Andrews, Muirfield, Royal Lytham and Royal Birkdale, Montgomerie becomes a different man, a different player. He had a 74 in the first round and a 76 in the second and in the context of the scores on the longest, toughest course in the history of the Open, his cause was not nearly as hopeless as he made out.

For some inexplicable reason, the confidence that pours from every pore evaporated. The man who talks a good game, almost as well as he plays it, announced at the halfway stage here that he was out of it, merely making up the numbers and looking forward to the next major championship (he has won everything but a major) the US PGA at Medinah in Chicago next month.

Yesterday Montgomerie, resuming at nine over par, met Jean Van de Velde on the practice putting green, shook the Frenchman's hand and wished him the best of luck. What would Montgomerie have given to be in the shoes of a man he leaves in his slipstream every week on the European Tour?

Montgomerie was wearing a yellow jersey but it was Van de Velde who was leading. According to Tiger Woods, anybody at 10 over par and under had a "good shot" at it. It is doubtful whether Montgomerie really believed it, and he certainly didn't after reaching the turn.

In the final round he opened with a bogey five and recorded his one and only birdie at the ninth. He was, as he decided on Friday, making up the numbers.

Montgomerie went to the turn in 36 and his fate at the 10th perhaps summed up his entire week if not his entire Open Championship experience.

Having missed the fairway, he hit his second shot out of bounds on the left and walked off the green with a triple bogey seven. Then he played par golf to come home in 38 for a round of 74 and an aggregate of 296. He finished 12 over par.

After a practice round Montgomerie had predicted that 16 over par could be good enough to capture the old claret jug. If so he would have won by four strokes. At Loch Lomond Montgomerie had closed with a 64 to finish at 20 under par. In the space of a week he experienced a 28-stroke swing. A downswing.

"I was going OK after my birdie at the ninth but the seven at the 10th really stopped me in my tracks," he said. "I took a gamble and it didn't pay off. I tried to hit a six iron out of the rough and it went straight left. It didn't have to go out of bounds but it did, by a foot of all things.

"I parred every hole coming in which was a good effort because it was difficult to keep going after that triple-bogey. I probably decided to take a gamble at the 10th because I thought I was still in with a chance. I saw that Craig Parry had just taken a triple bogey at the 12th and I thought that six or seven over par could be in contention. I was at nine over so there was an opportunity, yes. I wasn't in a position to lay up at that stage. What happened at the 10th was just unfortunate but not to worry.

"To win at Loch Lomond was super and here the expectation was obviously high. I've got a week off now, well I'm off to Oslo tomorrow so it's hardly a week off."

Monty travels to Scandinavia today with Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara to play in a Nordic jolly dreamt up by his management company, IMG. Does he need it?

Montgomerie, the enigma of Europe, will have another tilt when the Open returns to St Andrews in 2000. In 1990, when he made his debut in the Championship there, he was joint 48th; in 1995 when it returned to St Andrews he missed the cut. He is not exactly at home at the home of golf. Nor is he comfortable with the Open itself.