Monty It Should be That Difficult

By Derek LawrensonJune 11, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenEditor's Note: The following is a special feature courtesy LINKS Magazine
 
Colin Montgomerie first thought he had won the U.S. Open in 1992, when Jack Nicklaus came up to him after the Scot had completed his final round at Pebble Beach and said, Congratulations on becoming our national champion.
Montgomerie thought he had won it again at Oakmont in 1994. He led the putting statistics'and every other time he has done that in his career he has always gone home with a trophy.
 
Colin Montgomerie
Colin Montgomerie switched clubs on the 72nd hole last year and that may have cost him his first major. (WireImage)
The third time came at Congressional in 1997, when he played so well that he turned in the low score in two of the four rounds. As he says: Has anyone else ever done that, and not won?
 
And then there was last year, when he holed his Hail Mary putt on the 71st hole, a snaking 60-foot triple-breaker, and split the middle of the fairway with his final drive at Winged Foot. When you hole a one in a thousand putt'his Larry Mize at the 1987 Masters or Bob Tway at the 1986 PGA moment'how can you not think its your time?
 
Heres one fact that tells you everything, Montgomerie says with a rueful grin. There have only been a handful of times in my entire career when I thought Id won a tournament and it didnt happen.
 
Four of them have come at the U.S. Open.
 
Montgomerie knows firsthand that the Open is the most difficult tournament to win. Theres no let-up at the U.S. Open, he says. Every hole is a potential bogey. Look at Oakmont: Even the par 5s are bogeys if youre not careful. So you come off every year feeling mentally whacked.
 
A lot of great players have never won the Open. The list includes Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros and at the very top, Sam Snead.
 
But at least those guys won other majors. Montgomerie, 43, is the only player to finish second five times in the majors'three in the Open'and never win. The Open close calls hurt most because its the tournament that plays to all his strengths. Despite the disappointment of having Nicklaus verbally hand him the trophy in 1992 before first Jeff Sluman then Tom Kite snatched it from him, Montgomerie was quite happy with his third-place finish in his Open debut.
 
I wasnt unhappy finishing third, he says. Totally the opposite. I had fallen in love with the U.S. Open. I thought it was right up my alley.
 
And why not? Montgomerie is straight off the tee, putts well and is remarkably consistent. Hes Hale Irwin with an accent and better eyesight; yet Irwin has won three Opens and Montgomerie is 0 for 14.
 
Thats because no event exposes weaknesses like the Open, and Montgomeries lack of conditioning, fragile concentration and rabbit ears factored in all his subsequent second-place finishes.
 
In 1994, after playing four rounds in stifling heat and tying Ernie Els and Loren Roberts, Montgomerie showed up for the playoff wearing a dark outfit. That was mistake number one, he says. I had run out of clean shirts apart from one with a black tartan pattern. I was sponsored by Pringle, and felt a duty to wear one of their shirts. How would it look if I won the title and wasnt wearing one? Of course, I should have walked into the pro shop and bought a white Oakmont shirt.
 
The other thing that would be different if I had my time over again was that I would be a lot slimmer. If you look at old footage, I was enormous. I just had nothing left to give come the playoff. Montgomerie shot 78 and missed sudden death by four strokes.
 
At the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, Montgomerie arrived as one of the favorites, having won the previous weeks European Tour event by five shots. I was feeling so good about my game that I didnt even know where the practice ground was, he says. I turned up for my first round and thought Id better ask, so I went through the motions before playing. Then I went out, missed three 4-foot putts in the first four holes, and went on to shoot 65. To this day, Phil Mickelson, my playing partner that day, calls it the best round of golf in a major he has ever seen.
 
Montgomerie went to bed that night convinced he would win. He still believes it would have happened but for a rain delay the following day. What happened is that everyone went to the bar, he says. When play resumed I committed the cardinal sin of reacting to a fan who shouted something on the 16th tee. Thats the biggest regret I have in golf. It was not just that I lost concentration and bogeyed the next two holes. It was an incident that cost me years of competing in the U.S. Open.
 
The incident made headlines in the papers, and thats when I started having problems with American crowds. It wasnt until my Ryder Cup performances in 2002 and 2004 earned me respect, and I got sympathy following my divorce around the same time, that it all changed, and I actually started enjoying playing in America again.
 
His positive outlook didnt result in a different outcome last year at Winged Foot. Montgomerie stood in the 18th fairway, 172 yards from the hole, facing a shot that had become known as his stock-in-trade: a mid-iron to a hole cut on the right of the green.
 
If I had to play that shot 100 times, 99 of them would finish 10 feet or less to the left of the flag, he says. What unnerved me was that my playing partner, Vijay Singh, had hooked his ball into a tent, and it took an age to get a ruling. This is no criticism of Vijay, because I would have done the same, but if I could just have walked up and hit my shot I would have won.
 
Instead, I had five minutes to kill, and thats when the doubts crept in. Was it a 6- or 7-iron? In hindsight I should have spent the time swinging a club, keeping my rhythm, and concentrated on making sure I made a full backswing. Instead, when my time came, I was tight, I didnt complete my backswing, and as soon as I hit it I knew I was in trouble.
 
He hit a 7-iron slightly heavy, and instead of hitting it 10 feet left of the hole, he missed the green short right, leading to a double bogey. People dont realize how easy it is to lose the U.S. Open, he says. Look at Mickelson. He was chasing a third major in a row, and one bad swing from him and that all disappeared with a double bogey at the same hole. Look at Padraig Harrington, who needed to finish with three pars to win and had three bogeys.
 
But you wont get any rant from me about its unfairness. It should be that difficult to win the U.S. Open. So Ill come back this year at Oakmont and have
another go. Ive even looked at the future venues and contemplated whether they suit me. Ive not given up hope of cracking the difficulties and finishing the winner.
 
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    Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

    SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

    Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

    Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

    Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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    Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

    SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

    “Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.


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    “We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

    In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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    Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

    “That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

    So was Woods.

    DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

    “His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

    Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

    “He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.


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    “The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

    Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

    “Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

    “Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

    Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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    With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

    SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

    The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

    It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

    “It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

    Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

    According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

    “I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


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    Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

    And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

    As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

    He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

    “I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

    Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

    “I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

    Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

    Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

    “If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

    Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.