Monday, July 19, 2004

Montgomerie's game not in major form


It's one fact that couldn't be escaped

By MARTIN GREIG
The (Glasgow, Scotland) Herald

TROON, Scotland - For all the bluster, all the defiant resolve and the avalanche of goodwill, Colin Montgomerie's bid to win the British Open championship in his home town of Troon foundered on one unalterable fact Sunday - his current form is simply not that of a major winner.

As early as the tenth tee that grim realization had dawned on him, and then gradually crept up on his army of followers, who drifted away in search of greater thrills. By the last eight holes, the carnival atmosphere which had accompanied his tee off in the company of Canadian Mike Weir had turned funereal.

The ashen-face of the Scot was mirrored beyond the ropes in the loyal band that saw it out until the bitter end, traipsing along like rows of the condemned. Afterwards, Montgomerie admitted that trying to claw back a five-stroke lead was just too tall an order.

"I had to score seven or eight under to win so I don't think it's a chance lost at all," he said, after shooting a 76. "It was a very good Open for me to think that I got here in a playoff in the first place."

After Saturday's round of 72, at which stage he was sitting at three under, the 41-year-old signaled his intention to come out with all guns blazing by stating that he wanted to be two under after four holes. Strangely, though, he was tentative from the very start and it wasn't until the par five fourth that he finally took the bull by the horns.

There, he blasted a drive down the heart of the fairway. His second shot nestled in the rough to the left of the green, but a delicate chip and four-foot putt saw him record his first birdie of the round. One under after four, one less than he had hoped but still firmly in contention.

At the par three eighth, a wedge shot found the heart of the green, but his ensuing putt hung defiantly on the edge of the cup. Afterwards, Montgomerie highlighted his failure to deliver on the Postage Stamp as crucial.

"The putt on eight was the turning point for me. I don't know to this day how that ever would miss," he reflected. "If that had gone in to get to two under for the day to get to five under for the tournament, I think you would have seen a different back nine. It might have been a different story."

Unlikely. Even by that point, it was clear that Montgomerie was not finding enough fairways and hitting enough greens and those basic deficiencies manifested themselves in his first dropped shot of the round at the ninth. Despite his tee shot coming to rest in the light rough on the left, he still had a good line to the pin. However, he proceeded to miss the green to the right. After chipping on, but his four-foot putt lipped out and he returned to three under. Back to square one.

The feeling of deflation was tangible. The "Come on Colin" shouts, which on Friday had sounded like inspired rallying cries, were now forlorn cries in the wilderness.

A stray second shot on the 10th left him with a lot of work to do and when another par putt slipped past, the writing was on the wall. Hands on hips, Montgomerie stared back down the 10th fairway to the distant roars of the matches behind him.

At this stage he was simply not playing very well, but on the 13th green his round began to take on a ghoulish quality when he four putted from 40 feet. Another double bogey followed on the par three 17th, by which time the crowd, and Montgomerie, had lost interest.

Afterwards, he was philosophical. "It was a wonderful experience this week and I'll always remember it. I'll come back again next year and see what I can do then. It's in Scotland again (at St Andrew's) and hopefully I'll have as much support. I take a lot of positives knowing that I can still win this championship if it goes your way. It has to go your way and it didn't particularly today."




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