Monty Surprises Himself With Strong Start

Colin Montgomerie, the reigning U.S. Senior Open champion, was solid in Round 1 at Chambers Bay, posting a 1-under 69. (USGA/Fred Vuich)
Colin Montgomerie, the reigning U.S. Senior Open champion, was solid in Round 1 at Chambers Bay, posting a 1-under 69. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Of those golfers having a good opening day in the 115th U.S. Open, count 51-year-old Colin Montgomerie, who shot a 1-under 69, among the most surprised.

“In practice it was more like 80, I must admit,” Montgomerie said after completing his round only four strokes out of the lead. “To go out there and break 70 was more than I was expecting.”

A three-time U.S. Open runner-up (1994, 1997, 2006), Montgomerie is competing in the championship for the first time since 2008 as a result of winning the 2014 U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National.

He traveled to Washington after tying for third place in the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday. That was an extraordinary day for the Scot, who spent a couple of hours at Massachusetts General Hospital getting checked out prior to his starting time after experiencing chest pains Saturday evening.

“I think over the last 35 years I’ve had more 4-foot putts than probably you have, and eventually it begins to cause very too much stress in my life,” Montgomerie said. “You’re in a hotel room on your own and you feel something not quite right and it’s quite frightening really.”

Doctors cleared Montgomerie to finish the Senior Players.

“They checked me out and found I was the same as I was about 12 years ago,” he said. “I can get around here. When you get to 50 and you’re under the kind of stress we are, they’re going to find something.”

Since joining the Champions Tour, Montgomerie has had a career resurgence. He made up, at least a little, for years of major-championship frustration by winning two majors for 50-and-older golfers in 2014 – the Senior PGA Championship and U.S. Senior Open. He successfully defended his Senior PGA title last month.

Montgomerie is still a solid ball-striker, as reflected by the way he hit 12 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in the first round at Chambers Bay. Three of his four birdies came on putts of 8 feet or shorter, two of those after approaches of more than 220 yards.

“I’ve got a serious issue with length,” said Montgomerie. “This is not like a normal links course where you can run the ball into the greens. You’ve got to carry the ball a lot of the time on these surfaces. It’s right at my limit.”

He averaged 275 yards off the tee, about 25 yards less than the field average but made up for that with good distance control, always one of his strengths.

“I’m still doing OK on the [Champions] Tour because I can hit to a distance,” Montgomerie said. “Here, if you carry a hump or don’t carry a hump, [the ball] can be 50 yards apart. This is very hard turf. It is more challenging to get the right club and commit to that shot. If you don’t commit to the shots here, you can forget it.”

After one round, Montgomerie is in good position to improve on Kenny Perry’s tie for 28th in the 2014 U.S. Open – by far the best result turned in by a player who was exempt into the championship due to winning the U.S. Senior Open.

“It’s nice to represent the Champions Tour with a 69 to start with,” Montgomerie said. “There is a long way to go. I’ve got to play tomorrow afternoon, which will be more difficult.”

Making one’s way around undulating Chambers Bay isn’t easy either. “It’s a hell of a walk,” Montgomerie said.

Montgomerie prevailed in the U.S. Senior Open, in Edmond, Okla., in searing heat. His face was red and he didn’t look the freshest down the stretch, but he kept playing the kind of shots necessary to hold off tenacious Gene Sauers.

Any older golfer competing against younger, stronger competition will forever be emboldened by what Tom Watson did at age 59 during the 2009 British Open, where a bogey on the 72nd hole denied him a victory for the ages – and for the aging.

“Can I win? If Tom Watson can do what he did at 59 years old, that has given everybody over 50 hope,” Montgomerie said. “And it only came down to an 8-foot putt. You never know. If the ball runs my way and I hole a lot of putts the next three days, you never know. You could get into contention.”

So far, so good.

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.