The challenge for Colin Montgomerie is all too simple, if oh so imposing, here at the WGC CA Championship this week. Finish in the top four or miss his second Masters in 16 years and only his third major from the last 65. Aptly enough considering his nickname Stateside, it is this doubt that will fire him when he tees it up at Doral tomorrow.
The Scot was out on the course known as the Blue Monster by 7am yesterday, which is decidedly unMonty-like. While Tiger Woods is famous for overtaking the milkman on his way to practice rounds, sometimes Montgomerie has barely beaten students on their way to afternoon tutorials.
It just proves how seriously he is taking this mission. Last week, he changed the habit of a lifetime by turning down an appearance fee to play in Korea to go for the ranking points at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. The result? Missed cut, missed payday. "No, the week didn't go to plan," he said yesterday. "Missed the cut by one. Very disappointing."
And very ominous. Montgomerie is currently ranked 66th in the world and must re-enter the top 50 by the Augusta deadline of 31 March. Otherwise he can only pray for a special invite from the green-jackets, which is about as likely as him winning "Rear of the Year". "This is my last week to make the Masters," he acknowledged. "I need to pull out all the stops."
Some in the game suspect the stops are pulling him now and theirs is a persuasive argument. Montgomerie is 44, going on 45, and in apparent freefall. Twelve months ago he arrived in town a member of the world's top 20; talk about things disappearing south. Yet Montgomerie has been here before. In 2004, he fell out of the top 80 and was universally written off. Within a year he was back in the top 10 and in possession of his eighth Order of Merit title. He insists the desire to scale the mountain remains. "I still want to improve, still believe I can improve," he said. "I'm lucky to be able to say that at 44."
There are a few aspects driving Montgomerie on, not least that burning urge to fill one of golf's most infamous major voids and so silence those Mrs Doubtfire taunts forever. Then there is Europe's showdown with the US in Kentucky in September. "I don't want to miss out on the Masters because this is a Ryder Cup year and, if you don't play, you lose out on all the precious points available at Augusta," he said. "If you're not there, you're on the back foot. And it does not look very good if the captain [Nick Faldo] is qualified to play in the Masters and you're not, now does it?"
It certainly would not look very good from his armchair. Three years ago he was absent from his first Masters since 1992. "My last round before Augusta [in 2005] was a 60 in Indonesia, for God's sake," he said. "So I was sitting there, in front of the TV, saying to myself, 'Hey, I can actually play this game, I could be competing there.' I don't want to go through all that again. I've had enough of missing majors, thank you very much."
So what are his chances of that top-four finish? Alas, on the extreme side of unlikely. All bar Padraig Harrington of the top 60 are in attendance and Montgomerie's recent record at this water park is hardly sparkling; last year's tie for 55th his best finish in a decade. At least he would have something else to occupy his mind should he fall short. Montgomerie is due to be wed the week after Augusta. He could help with the decorations.