There has always been a Shakespearean quality to Colin Montgomerie’s golf. Drama. Pathos. Humour. Tragedy. Just about the only thing missing is romance. Adding to the air of nostalgia, his opening hole at the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon - where he is an honorary member - represented a microcosm or at least a close facsimile of the 53-year old’s highly successful but ultimately major-less career. Happiness became irritation, which turned into disaster.
Despite rising from his bed at 4am, Monty was all smiles on the first tee and clearly relishing the “honour” of hitting the opening tee-shot on the course where his father was once club secretary. He certainly drew a crowd, never mind the earliness of the hour. The grandstand left of the tee was full as early as 6.20am, the long line waiting outside an indication of the local man’s appeal and level of support. All in all, it was a jolly scene.
But grumpiness and near-disaster were soon to alter the mood of the day. That opening tee-shot was pulled to the left, the result of a swing unusually quick from the top: “I was nervous. I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t.” And, disturbed by a workman unwrapping a camera at the top of the grandstand situated to the left of the fairway, the combustible Caledonian was quickly into his part-time job at every major event: chief marshal.
“The guy wasn’t quite aware of what was directly below him,” said Monty. “Which was me.”
Eventually, the approach was hit and the result was not good. In fact, it was terrible. Plugged in the left-hand greenside bunker, Monty was unable to extricate his ball from the hazard. Now mired in his footprint - “and my footprint is deeper than most” - he was forced to play away from the putting surface.
“The best shot I hit all day, probably one of the best shots of my life, was that fourth shot out of that bunker,” he would later claim. “It was amazing that the ball came out. No one in the field would have gotten the first ball out of there. It was buried under the lip; it was horrendous.”
Still, up-and-down for what he called a “good double-bogey if there is such a thing; six always beats seven,” represented the best of a bad job. And when five birdies followed to the turn, Monty was three-under par and, momentarily, leading the Open. Perhaps his only disappointment was not being able to stop at the caravan selling bacon rolls to the left of the 7th fairway.
“I could smell it,” said the unrepentantly overweight Scot. “It was so annoying having to keep walking. I wanted to stop, just as I had done in the practice rounds. That smell is fantastic.”
Coming home, as is the norm at Royal Troon, a classic “out and back” links, Monty struggled, as did his playing partners, Luke Donald and Marc Leishman. Shots were dropped at the brutally difficult par-4 11th, as well as the short 14th and the long 16th. And it could have been worse. An unlikely fifty-foot putt dropped for par at the 13th, as did a 20-footer at the last.
“The back-nine here is ‘hang on,’ as you know,” he explained. “You’ll hear this from every player in the field. I was three-under on the front and three-over on the back. That’s par for both. And that’s why I am round in 71, level par.”