Full Monty This Week

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HOUSTON, Texas -- Darren Clarke gave me the 'go ahead' sign Wednesday on the practice putting green. So up to the first tee I strolled, following Colin Montgomerie as he made the turn during his pro-am round.

And what do you know, Colin was more than accommodating. I was prepared for the worst, but instead got the best of him. And the best of Colin Montgomerie is actually a very pleasant fellow. I for one have certainly had my doubts, and a run-in as well a few years back. But after this, I'm willing to put the past thoughts aside and move forward - just as he says he's trying to do as far as support in the United States is concerned.
 
'When you've been at the bottom as far as that's concerned, there's no place to go but up,' said a smiling Montgomerie. 'It's been a good couple of weeks.'
 
And so with fans in his corner, Monty tries again this week to get a win on U.S. soil. 'I'm here to compete and win the Houston Open,' he said. 'This is not a preparation for the Masters. This is my job, to compete. That's why I'm here.'
 
True, but there are a few other reasons the trip to Houston made sense. Back in the 1980s, Colin played collegiately at Houston Baptist. At the time HBU was a Division I program with the likes of 2000 PGA Club Professional Champion Tim Thelan there as well. Now, the school has no golf team at all.
 
But Monty likes the area nonethelesss. He also likes the surroundings he sees on the practice putting green this week. Darren Clarke, Jos Maria Olazabal, Thomas Bjrn and Adam Scott are all here, making this a very strong field along the way to Augusta.
 
This marks the first time since 1991 that the Shell Houston Open has been on the calendar before Augusta. That's not a problem, according to Tournament Director Steve Timms, who told me that it has provided a reason for players to come when perhaps they'd have bypassed the event in prior years.
 
Normally, the tournament falls a few weeks after The Masters - a time when players are usually ready for rest before a run toward the United States Open. 'We're excited about the field,' Timms said. 'And we know a thing or two about hospitality, too - which doesn't hurt.'
 
Greg Norman is part of the reason for the excitement Timms feels. He hasn't been here since 1991, but is back remembering just how good the TPC at the Woodlands is. He's taking the opportunity to visit in-laws and hoping allergies don't blow him off course. As Norman put it, 'I usually load up on medicine at night, and then give it a go in the morning.' The fans are hoping a Sunday run is in the cards.
 
David Duval is here as well. Vijay Singh too. And David Toms and Fred Couples have made the trip. Point being: The Shell Houston Open is a good tournament that deserves support from the players. And so what if it falls a week after the Players Championship. Craig Perks is here. What other proof does one need?!
 
Perks made the short drive from Lafayette, La., to The Woodlands and will tee it up just before noon local time Thursday with Robert Allenby, who won here two years ago, and Darren Clarke. By the way, Perks' World Ranking is now a stout 64th, which is a far cry from the 203rd position he held last week.
 
'I'm playing well, so why not ride it?' he said. I agree. But I'm not picking him this week.
 
I'm picking rookie Texan Chad Campbell. That's right. You think I'm crazy? Have a look at the year's winners and find a trend other than 'unpredictablility.' A three-time winner last year on the Buy.Com Tour, Campbell is ready because he has no reason to believe he shouldn't be. That's the way things are these days.
 
And just for the record. I'm picking Australian Rod Pampling next week in Atlanta. But first things first. Let's give the Shell Houston Open its due. Should be a great one. And if Chad Campbell can't make me proud, then how 'bout Monty.
 
Now THAT would get people talking!