We havent seen or heard much of Colin Montgomerie other than that cameo appearance on the West Coast. Hes spent most of his time thrashing around in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia. Those locales, incidentally, are where the European Tour spends most of the first four months of the year.
Montgomerie usually spends much of February through April in the U.S., as does his upper-class brethren of the Euro Tour. Lets see, theres the Match Play tourney in Southern California the end of February. Then theres always the Florida events in March leading up to The Players Championship. And, of course, the Masters in early April.
Except Monty missed all those this year, all except for the one aborted event in L.A. He was obligated to spend the first three months of the season chasing rankings points, all with the chance of getting into the Match Play (top 64) or The Players Championship or the Masters (top 50). Along the way, he has become an expert on eating with chopsticks.
No, he didnt succeed in his quest, though he zoomed up the rankings from No. 75 on New Years Day to No. 54. All that got him was a Good show, old chap! He KNEW it was a good show. What he wanted was a place in the Masters.
Montgomerie finished third in Tiger Woods tournament, the Target World Challenge, in December last year and that was a big confidence-booster to the man who had finished in Europes top six or better for 12 years. But that was before 2003. In 2003, he dropped to 28th, his worst finish since his rookie year in 1988. Then last year he finished 25th.
Not surprisingly, the man who won the European money list for seven years in a row sagged down, down, down the World Ranking, to 81st. A faulty back took its toll, as did a failed marriage. You had to wonder if Montgomerie had the heart for this anymore.
But then came the stirring victory over the U.S. in the Ryder Cup, with Monty playing a key role. And this year? Well, he missed his points goals and he hasnt yet won a tournament. But at age 41, he may be playing the best golf of his life.
I spent the last three years trying to hit the ball too hard and too fast, and I was playing someone else's game instead of my own game, he said. And now I'm back to playing my own game and that seems to work.
He started the year in Singapore, where he tied for second. He followed that with a stop in Australia, where his T11 finish was his worst of the year. Three weeks of rest followed, then a fourth-place finish at Dubai in early March.
By now Montgomerie was up to No. 56, and there appeared to be a sliver of hope that he could crack the magic 50. He agreed that the number had appeared near-impossible when the year began, but now it appeared do-able. You can eat an elephant, but you have to do it bite by bite, he said in Dubai. You can't do it all in one go.
A sixth-place finish in China at the TCL Classic was the best Monty could do in his next event. So he knew he had to win in Jakarta the third week of March to have a chance of moving into the No. 50 spot. And numbers like 67, 69 and 66 would put you near the top in most tournaments. But not in Jakarta with its par-70 track and lift-clean-and-place rules.
Monty shot a 60 the final round, but all it got him was a tie for fourth place. He lost by five strokes - time to go home and tend the roses, maybe work a little on his course-design business. There wouldnt be any golf for nearly a month.
You might have missed all this outstanding play if you arent a professor of Far Eastern Studies. But hes been magnificent ' I think. No one can say for certain, the kind of competition hes played. But hes played very well.
Its the best golf I have ever played, said Monty, even back to the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, I might have three weeks off now.
That he did, of course, until he went again to the land of lotus blossoms last week and finished sixth in the Johnnie Walker. But now he wont be spending anymore time in the Far East. He will play the European Tour in, surprisingly, Europe, with his sights set on another biggie ' getting into that same top 50 to get an invite to the U.S. Open.
I have five events to try and gain three spots. I'm 53rd, I believe (actually 54th), in the world and I've got to get into the top 50 by the end of the PGA at Wentworth (May 29th).
So I've got this week, I've got next week, I've got the British Masters and I've got the Irish Open, and then the BMW Championship at Wentworth. So I've got five events to gain three spots. I think I can do that.
Hes become a man in search of a ranking, going to the ends of the earth to try to move up four or five points.
Yeah, I've got to, he conceded. The prize money is incidental, to be honest with you. It's the ranking points I'm here for and for most of the year to get as many points as possible.
So every shot, every shot is a ranking point of some kind. I've got to try and negate the mistakes and try to get as many points as possible, and that's the whole deal for the next six months.
Email your thoughts to George White