With Champions Tour rebirth, Colin Montgomerie has another chance at relevance
By John Huggan
Prepare yourselves. Here he comes.
At the grand old age of 50 years and four days, Colin Montgomerie this week makes his Champions Tour debut in the Constellation Senior Players Championship. Which is appropriate in a way. Famous for many things, not least his perennial and perpetual failure to win a major title or a PGA Tour event, the eight-time European number-one will have an immediate opportunity to break his Grand Slam duck.
Well, sort of.
Attitudes to the senior majors tend to vary, all the way from Gary Player's enormous enthusiasm to Jack Nicklaus' thinly veiled indifference. But Monty can be relied upon to embrace all that is good about golf after 50. In his often-fevered mind, this venture across the pond is a huge opportunity to right previous wrongs.
"I think competitiveness got me to play seniors golf," he says. "I think the competition has driven me forward and kept the hunger and kept the ambition alive, because I'm not ready to stop competing just yet.
"I'll know when it's time to stop, because the hunger will have gone. But I'm still hungry for success, so as long as that remains the case, I'll keep playing senior golf."
It is, of course, little wonder he sounds so grateful. In being exempt for the Champions circuit, the man inevitably nicknamed "Monty" is more than a little fortunate. Otherwise not qualified, the Scot owes his place on tour to his enshrinement in the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier this year. And whisper it, that somewhat controversial induction may just have had as much to do with behind-the-scenes lobbying by his agents, International Management Group, as it did the 31 European Tour victories Monty recorded over the course of his 26-year professional career.
As Hall of Famer and two-time major champion Tony Jacklin commented when Monty's election was announced: "The Hall of Fame has some politics involved."
No matter. Whatever the reason behind his presence in Pittsburgh this week, the former Ryder Cup stalwart and skipper will surely provide much-needed column inches to a tour that too-often alternates between mediocre and moribund as far as publicity is concerned.
There is a variety of ways to describe Monty -- not all of them complimentary -- but there has never been any doubt about his news value to the European Tour he has so loyally supported for the last quarter-century. Never mind that his obvious liking for appearance money had a more than negative impact on his ability to compete in major championships, three of which involved him in long trans-Atlantic flights and accompanying jetlag.
As to how Monty is likely to fare on a tour where he will be the youngest rather than one of the oldest, the signs are not good. Albeit on courses longer than he will play over the coming years, the five-time runner-up in majors (three US Opens, one British Open and one PGA) has performed poorly ever since he entered professional golf's "black hole" -- the period between 46 and 50.
This season Monty has played seven events on the European Tour, missing the cut in five. Last year he was home for the weekend nine times in 21 attempts, with one top-ten finish. In 2011, he also recorded one top-ten, but played only two rounds in seven of 23 appearances. And in 2010, his record read: played 18, missed cut six, top-tens zero.
A closer look at his play reveals a steady deterioration in nearly all categories. Off the tee he has averaged under 275-yards since 2008. And on the greens he has taken an average of more than 29 putts every year since 2005. In other words, in the vital "scoring" areas he has been far from competitive.
"I've played recently with guys who are younger than my children," he says. "You say, 'hang on a minute, this isn't quite a level playing field'. Suddenly I'll be the youngest, playing against guys like Bernhard (Langer) who is six years older than me.
"I'll be a rookie, and therefore hopefully in an advantageous position. I've been playing against guys who are 23, 24 years old and they are hitting the ball a mile, so it's about time that parity came along."
Quietly, it must also be said that, unofficially at least, Monty's departure for pastures old will not be a source of regret for too many of his fellow Europeans.
Ever since his inventive -- the polite description -- replacement of his ball in an obviously advantageous position after an overnight rain delay at the 2005 Indonesian Open, Monty has been viewed with something not far removed from deep suspicion by many players. No one has ever said much publicly -- too controversial and therefore too much trouble -- but it remains a sad fact that, when Monty enters a room full of players, many eyes narrow.
Still, for all his previous indiscretions and recent failures on and off the course, the burly Scot remains hopeful that his "not what it was" game will be sharp enough to beat battle-hardened old adversaries like Fred Couples, Tom Watson, John Cook, Mark O'Meara, David Frost and Langer.
"I'm under no illusion as to how good the standard is," he claims. "My good friend Bernhard is dominating senior golf right now, and all credit to him. Then of course there's Fred, Kenny Perry, Tom Lehman -- I could go on and on. There's a great set of players, and they will take a bit of beating.
"But if I can come in and challenge them, I think they will enjoy that, and so will I, and hopefully all of the spectators will too. It's about time I won a major championship, so let's hope that one might just be in the offing. But if not, I will still love the competition of it."
Whether or not his contemporaries and the American crowds love him back remains to be seen.
But no heckling please.