So, is he still trying to get over the U.S. Open?
No, no affects at all, he replied. It didnt affect me at all.
No one was buying it. Not even Monty.
While Phil Mickelson will likely go down in golf history as the guy who blew it at Winged Foot'the I am such an idiot post-mortem all but assured it'Montgomerie should probably be kicking himself more than Lefty.
Mickelson made a mess of the 72nd hole right from the start, pushing his drive far left on the way to a double bogey that handed the title to a grateful Geoff Ogilvy. While devastated by his collapse, at least Mickelson could soothe his wounds with three major championships.
Monty doesnt have that sort of comfort zone. Hes never won a major'and he may never get a better chance to wash away the stain on an admirable career.
After knocking his tee shot to a perfect spot in the 18th fairway, Montgomerie overanalyzed his club selection for the approach to the green, didnt get the extra boost of adrenaline he was counting on and wound up short'in a virtually unplayable patch of thick rough.
Instead of a two-putt for par, he wound up with a double-bogey 6. Instead of grasping a major title for the first time, he trudged away with perhaps the most painful loss of a career filled with close calls in the biggest events.
But Montgomerie bounced back with a strong performance at last weeks Scottish Open warmup, and he arrived at Royal Liverpool with high hopes of making another run at the career-defining championship that has eluded him so far.
I try and take the positives from most things, he said. If I took the negatives from everything, I wouldnt be here, believe me. I have to take the positives from anything that happens and theres always a positive in most things, however bad a day that might be.
And what was positive about Winged Foot?
Flying home from New York on Sunday night, Montgomerie recalled, I had to think, Well, that was OK. I came into this event 21st or 22nd in the world and came within a whisker of winning. So I cant complain about that. Thats OK.
If hes truly recovered from the U.S. Open, the 43-year-old Scotsman should be one of the favorites at Royal Liverpool. He certainly knows how to make his way around a links course. And a pair of recent runner-up finishes in the majors'Monty was second to Tiger Woods at last years British Open'have shown hes fully recovered from a painful divorce and an extended slump.
Im confident, Montgomerie said. Im playing well. Im confident where the ball is going. Knowing where the ball is going is half the battle.
Some of his competitors believe he might just be the guy to beat. Montys low, accurate drives and intuitive feel for Britains seaside courses should give him an advantage over many in the 156-player field.
I would say somebody who is a straight ball hitter, somebody who keeps the ball low, somebody like a Montgomerie, is really sort of an ideal choice for a golf course like this, Englands Paul Casey said. My goals for the week are really to play like Colin would: keep the ball low and keep it in play. If I can do that, I think Ill have a chance.
Montgomerie and Mickelson arent the only ones in a recovery mode.
Woods is still coping with the death of his father and missed the cut at Winged Foot'the first time thats happened to him in a major since he turned pro. Ernie Els, the winner at Muirfield in 2002 and a British Open runner-up three times, hasnt finished higher than seventh this year. Vijay Singh had managed only one win after capturing a total of 13 victories the previous two seasons. Retief Goosen has been shut out on the PGA Tour in 2006.
It hasnt been about the Big Four or Five, whatever the number is, Casey said. Maybe there is a feeling that there is an opportunity for some of the other guys to sneak up and come in under the radar.
Not that hes counting out the usual favorites.
Theyre still the ones to beat, as far as Im concerned, Casey said. Phil is very, very keen. Weve heard all about his practice leading up to this week. Youve still got to fear Tiger and Ernie, and (Jim) Furyk would be a great, great call for this week. I really respect his game.
While conceding that hell never forget Winged Foot, Mickelson is adamant hes gotten over his final-hole meltdown. He cant afford to dwell on a few bad swings, which cost him a chance at the British to join Woods as the only players to hold all four major titles in the modern era.
I feel very confident in the way Ive prepared for tournaments and the way Ive been playing, Mickelson said. I dont want to let one bad hole interfere with that.
After the U.S. Open, he showed up at Hoylake the very next week to start preparing for the British. He spent two days at Royal Liverpool, then returned last Thursday to play what amounts to a full tournament.
Mickelson took a little more than eight hours for each of his four rounds, studying every option off the tee, from the fairway, around the green. He played Sunday morning, then returned in the afternoon and played into the late twilight.
Its hard to argue with the results.
In the last 10 majors, Mickelson has won three times, was runner-up twice and has finished out of the top 10 only two times. Beginning in 2004, the start of his stellar streak, he began studying courses as if he were cramming for a final exam, trying to figure out where he could take risks and when he should play it safe.
There was a long time where I wasnt really proud of my performance in the majors, said Mickelson, long known as the best player never to win a major. But the last couple of years, Im pretty proud of that. So again, one bad hole isnt going to change the way I look at that.