Colin Montgomerie is 44 going on 45, has been in or around the higher echelons of his profession for two decades, yet still believes he has plenty to learn from his 32-year-old playing partner in today's first round of the Desert Classic. Step forward, Tiger Woods, the man who can lead the oldest dogs on a five-mile walk and teach them a few new tricks in the process.
Not that Montgomerie is an old dog ("less of the old"), but he was willing to confess yesterday that he could do with a few new tricks as he tries to put the magic back in a career that has looked rather shaggy of late. "I am 44, I still want to improve and the only way of doing that, I believe, is playing with players you feel are better than you," said the Scot. "Tiger is certainly that and I have to find out why. And learn from it."
Fortunately, Montgomerie has not asked his fellow Tour veteran Thomas Bjorn how to beat the world No 1 – the answer would probably be "you won't". Bjorn may well have gone head-to-head for four rounds with Woods here in 2001 before pulling off a famous victory (Monty has never won a tournament in which Tiger has played), but that has not stopped him from having something of an inferiority complex when it comes to the figure he calls "the greatest sporting icon in the world".
"People ask why we don't stand up to this guy," Bjorn said. "We are not as good as he is, that's why. The sooner we all accept we can only be second best, the more chance we have to live up to our potential. If you are trying to beat him, good luck. You are not going to do it. He is not going to let you."
The facts certainly back up the Dane. Woods won his first tournament of the year on Sunday in Buick by eight shots, has triumphed in six of his last seven events stretching back to last August and, in this time, has posted a remarkable average score of 66.75.
Yesterday, the message from Woods to his rivals – who, this week, include Lee Westwood, Ernie Els and Henrik Stenson – was familiarly chilling. "People ask me if is this is just a run, but I think it's improvement," he said. "That's one of the reasons I made the [swing] changes. You can see the results. And the great thing is we have a long way to go."