Hoffa's fate a grim taunt as Monty struggles on

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The Independent Online

The perversely-minded among us may one day notice a few similarities between Colin Montgomerie and Jimmy Hoffa. Both carried the odd surplus pound, both had reputation problems and both could call themselves legendary teamsters. Monty prays the connection ends there and that he does not suffer the same fate as Hoffa when the union leader was last at Oakland Hills. That he does not disappear. Forever.

It was at a Italian restaurant just up the road from this course where Hoffa was last seen alive in 1975 and the cruel joke doing the rounds here has been that Montgomerie will never be seen again in a major after his visit to the Bloomfield Township. Apart from an all too short revival in June, the Scot's season has been on the mediocre side of miserable and while much has been made of his faltering mission to make his ninth Ryder Cup, many feel it might even be beyond the 45-year-old to stay on the outskirts of the world's elite.

Next month's Kentucky dust-up will understandably remain the priority for Montgomerie, but when that dream is realised, or dies or, whatever, he must hastily focus on re-climbing the rankings from his current position of 85. Otherwise, it will be difficult to the point of overly demanding for him to make any of the 2009 major fields, beginning with the Masters in April.

The question would then be whether a player closer to 50 than 40 could launch yet another comeback. It is not in Montgomerie's nature to give up and he will forever rage against the dying of the ball-flight. Yet the reality is when the switch goes, the switch goes and there is not much a veteran can do when the blackness envelopes his game.

Evidence that the dimmer is slowly turning the wrong way was very much provided by Montgomerie's opening 76 in the first-round here of the USPGA Championship, a major aptly labelled as "Glory's Last Shot". At six-over, he did not possess the most ghastly number after a benign morning in which this undulating, rough-laden layout proved how mighty a challenge it can pose. But his frustration was as palpable as any of the backmarkers.

Beginning with a bogey he had, apparently, set up his day with birdies on his second and third holes (the 11th and 12th) and when he stood over a four-footer for birdie on the 17th (his eighth) he was on the brink of rising to one behind the leaders. Yet, as so often has happened in his latter years his putting nerve failed him and his weakly hit effort dribbled wide. Cue Monty anger and all of the itinerant distractions.

He had six bogeys in the remaining 10 holes, and at least that many moans at officials and spectators, and while it would be erroneous to comment that he has never looked more grumpy – he has, often – he was clearly less than pleased with either himself, or the course. "Too long, too tough," he said. "You're better off being way off line with your drives here than just six inches off line. That's a shame. I'll try again tomorrow."

This was no solitary whinge about Oakland Hills. After a 77 that all but wrecked his much-vaunted chances, Lee Westwood backed his Ryder Cup partner. Indeed, he topped off the rant. "They are sucking the fun out of the major championships when then set it up like that," said the Englishman. "I asked my partners if I was out of order and they said 'No, if you are slightly off line you are crucified'. I am not sure you need rough as long as it is and you certainly don't need to sweep it back towards the tee the night before the tournament.

"At the fourth I couldn't get my club behind the ball. I can't recall it happening before and can't think of a reason why they would do it other than to irritate the players. It is too thick around the greens as well. It takes the skill away from chipping. You don't need it. The course is 7,500 yards, the greens are firm, and the pins are tucked away. It makes no sense to me. People want to see birdies and they have not seen me make any."

However, they did see Robert Karlsson make six birdies – in 10 holes. It would be an understatement to label the gigantic Swede's round as "eventful". He began with a double bogey, then had that remarkable run of red figures to fly to four-under, before dropping a couple on the 14th and 15th. However, his 68 was still enough to take a share of the clubhouse lead with India's Jeev Milkha Singh.

Karlsson is the only player to have finished in the top 10 of the each of the season's three majors so far and, together with Sergio Garcia, who shot a controlled 69, he is an obvious candidate to end Europe's barren spell in the USPGA that spans 78 years. As Jimmy would no doubt confirm, the hills of Detroit are eminently suitable for laying things to rest.