Monty Relaxed At Home in the States
Q: If you could pick whom you would play with in the final pairing, who would it be?
Colin Montgomerie: Me and the fellow that's three behind me. (Laughter.)
Colin has been over here in the States for over a week now. He played at Bay Hill - not well, but he played. He brought from England the same bugaboo that plagued him last year - his putting. 'I played particularly badly the last day and shot 1-under,' he said. 'So at least I putted well the last day.'
For seven years, Montgomerie was untouchable when it came to European golf. From 1993 through 1999, he was No. 1 in the Order of Merit, which is what Euros call their money standings. Last year, he played 23 times, which was the most ever since 1994. And he finished sixth. That is the price you must pay when you don't get the ball in the hole - which Monty didn't do nearly enough last year.
For several years, of course, Montgomerie was a feared man in the U.S. championships. It started in 1991 when he was a nameless Ryder Cup rookie and played Mark Calcavecchia in singles at Kiawah Island. Calcavecchia was 5-up at the turn. With four holes left, Calc was still 4-up. But Monty, of course, did the unbelievable. He won all four of the final holes and came back to tie the match.
The U.S. Open of '92 really brought his name to the public. Fighting terrible conditions at Pebble Beach, he finished a couple of hours ahead of the finishers on Sunday. An even-par finish after 72 holes convinced Jack Nicklaus to crown him the winner. But Tom Kite rallied on the back nine to beat him, as did Jeff Sluman with a birdie at the 18th.
In '94, he lost a playoff for the Open to Ernie Els. In '95, he lost a playoff for the PGA to Steve Elkington. In 1996 he finished tied for second in this Players Championship to Fred Couples. And in '97, he was second in the Open again to Els.
That, though, was his last time to compete for a major. After that, he had to be content to be Europe's best in the Ryder Cup in '97 and '99. The putter had killed him time and time again. He wasn't particularly horrible. He just didn't putt to major championship standards.
He says he has put in many long hours putting with his coach, Paul Marchand of Houston. He was starting his stroke by getting the blade back first. Now he is working on getting the entire club and his hands to make a simultaneous motion, getting the handle to rock backwards in time with the blade. 'But you've got to get back with it to get through, and it has not been going back to get through,' he explained. 'There's no point in not having a backswing to have a follow-through.'
Of course, there are the whispers. Montgomerie is 37 years old now, an age some fear is too old to think about that first major victory. He must show he can handle the putter again in a reliable manner. Some point to the problems he had in his home life last year, though Montgomerie says everything is rosy now. But he is nowhere the favorite that he once was.
Monty concedes all that. 'Yes,' he says, 'I would like to win here. But it will not change me nor my life in any way, shape or form if I don't.'
There was a time a couple of years back when Montgomerie considered establishing a base in the United States and playing a full-time schedule. One reason he didn't do it was that his string of money titles in Europe was still intact. Another was the hostile reaction he had received here recently in his Open and Ryder Cup appearances. Still another was that his children were growing up, needing desperately to be in their home country, and their father needed to be where he was most comfortable, too.
'Yes, I did consider it,' Monty said. 'And I considered it a great deal a couple of years ago, about three years ago, I believe. And it was just not right for me at that time.
'With the events on the schedule at that time, I felt like I was coming over here more anyway, so there was no need for me to play full-time over here. And that will remain. As I say, I play about eight or nine tournaments over here now every year, and I play about 15 at home and five other tournaments around the world, and that's my 30.'
Of course, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal, Jesper Parnevik, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, to name a few, feel that they had achieved all they could in Europe and had to move here to get better. Should Montgomerie, now that he is already is his late 30s? The feeling is that his best golf days are already behind him and he would be wise to stay where he is with his wife and children. Apparently he feels the same way, too.
Montgomerie, by the way, feels The Players is a major already. It just hasn't been classified as such.
'This is a major championship,' he said with emphasis. 'You'd be doing well to say that you are not a major champion if you win this event. This is a major. I don't know who makes the rules or who decides the four or five or six or how many majors we have in this world, but this is a major championship of all proportion.'
He didn't seem at all the ogre that he sometimes appears on the golf course. Hey, maybe we were wrong. On the other hand, maybe we were right but he has changed.
At any rate, this is Colin, and he has made an enormous impact on golf in the States in the '90s, even though he hasn't lived here since he was a collegian back in the mid-'80s at tiny Houston Baptist. Stay in England but come here to play your eight times, Monty. The sport dearly needs you.
Schauffele on close call: Nothing but a positive
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Playing in a final group at a major for the first time, Xander Schauffele awkwardly splashed out of three pot bunkers, went out in 40 and still somehow had a chance to win at Carnoustie.
Playing the 17th hole, tied with Francesco Molinari, Schauffele flared his approach shot into the right rough and couldn’t get up and down for par. He dropped one shot behind Molinari, and then two, after the Italian birdied the final hole.
Just like that, Schauffele was doomed to a runner-up finish at The Open.
“A little bit of disappointment,” he said. “Obviously when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. Hats off to Francesco. I looked up on 17 and saw he got to 8 under, which is just incredible golf and an incredible finish.”
Schauffele did well to give himself a chance. The 24-year-old was in the final group with Spieth, but both youngsters fell off the pace after rocky starts. The Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year birdied the 14th but couldn’t convert a 15-footer on the treacherous 16th that would have given him a one-shot cushion.
“It’s going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” he said. “I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance. Anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at is as a positive moving forward and try to learn how to handle the situations a little better next time.”
They came, they saw and Molinari conquered The Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – From a perch above the 17th tee, next to a three-story grandstand that may well be the tallest structure on the Angus coast, the 147th Open Championship unfolded with more twists and turns than a Russian novel.
It was all there like a competitive kaleidoscope to behold. In quick order, Rory McIlroy’s title chances slipped away with a whimper, a par at the last some 100 yards to the left of the 17th tee. Tiger Woods, seemingly refreshed and reborn by the Scottish wind, missed his own birdie chance at the 16th hole, a half-court attempt near the buzzer for a player who is 0-for-the last decade in majors.
Moments later, Kevin Kisner scrambled for an all-world par of his own at No. 16 and gazed up at the iconic leaderboard as he walked to the 17th tee box, his title chances still hanging in the balance a shot off the lead.
Francesco Molinari was next, a textbook par save at No. 16 to go along with a collection of by-the-book holes that saw the Italian play his weekend rounds bogey-free. He also hit what may have been the most important drive of his life into what a Scot would call a proper wind at the 17th hole.
Xander Schauffele, who was tied with Molinari at the time at 7 under par, anchored the action, missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th hole. Moments later the Italian calmly rolled in a 5-footer for birdie at the last to finish his week at 8 under par.
All this unfolded over a frenzied final hour of play at Carnoustie, offering just a taste of what the other four-plus hours of play resembled.
“I couldn't watch Xander play the last two holes, to be honest,” said Molinari, who became the first Italian to win a major. “That's why I went to the putting green, because I probably would have felt sick watching on TV,”
Carnoustie may not be the fairest of the Open rotation courses, but it certainly delivers the dramatic goods regularly enough.
Woods’ prediction earlier in the week that this Open Championship would come down to no fewer than 10 would-be champions seemed hyperbolic. It turns out he was being conservative with his estimate.
All total, 11 players either held a share of the lead or moved to within a stroke of the top spot on a hectic Sunday. For three days Carnoustie gave, the old brute left exposed by little wind and even less rough. Earlier in the week, players talked of not being able to stop the ball on the dusty and dry links turf. But as the gusts built and the tension climbed on Sunday, stopping the bleeding became a bigger concern.
If most majors are defined by two-way traffic, a potpourri of competitive fortunes to supercharge the narrative, this Open was driven in one direction and a cast of would-be champions with a single goal: hang on.
A day that began with three players – including defending champion Jordan Spieth, Kisner and Schauffele – tied for the lead at 9 under, quickly devolved into a free-for-all.
Kisner blinked first, playing his first three holes in 3 over par; followed by Spieth whose poor 3-wood bounded into a gorse bush at the sixth hole and led to an unplayable lie. It was a familiar scene that reminded observers of his unlikely bogey at Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole last year. But this time there was no practice tee to find refuge and his double-bogey 7 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
“I was trying to take the burn out of the equation by hitting 3-wood to carry it. It was unlucky. It went into the only bush that's over on the right side. If it misses it, I hit the green and have a birdie putt,” Spieth said.
Schauffele’s struggles coincided with Spieth’s, with whom he played on Sunday, with a bogey at the sixth sandwiched between a bogey (No. 5) and a double bogey (No. 7).
This opened the door to what the entire golf world has awaited, with Woods vaulting into the lead at 7 under par, the first time since the ’11 Masters he’d led at a major, and sending a low rumble across the course.
Since Woods last won a major, that ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one leg, Spieth and Schauffele, who Tiger spotted four strokes on Sunday, graduated from high school; McIlroy went from phenom to four-time major winner and Donald Trump was transformed from being a TV celebrity to the President of the United States.
But the fairytale only lasted a few minutes with Woods playing Nos. 11 and 12 in 3 over par. They were the kind of mistakes the 14-time major champion didn’t make in his prime
“A little ticked off at myself, for sure. I had a chance starting that back nine to do something, and I didn't do it,” said Woods, who finished tied for sixth but will have the consolation prize of moving into the top 50 in the world ranking to qualify for the last WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in two weeks.
But as Woods faded, McIlroy made a familiar move, charging in an eagle putt at the par-5 14th hole to tie Molinari and Schauffele at 6 under par. The Northern Irishman would run out of holes, playing the final four in even par to finish tied for second, but the moment wasn’t lost on him.
“It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars. Tiger being back in the mix. You know, everything,” McIlroy said. “There's a lot of big names up there. It was nice to be a part of it. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was go and spoil the party here.”
By the time the final groups reached Carnoustie’s finishing stretch it was a two-man party, with Molinari proving for the second time this month that boring golf can be effective.
Although he’d won the European Tour’s flagship event in May, Molinari decided to add the Quicken Loans National to his schedule because of his precarious position on the FedExCup points list (122nd) – he won that, too. The week before the Open, he fulfilled his commitment to play the John Deere Classic, a requirement under the PGA Tour’s new strength of field rule, and finished second.
Although his track record at The Open was nothing special – he’d posted just a single top-10 finish in his first 10 starts at the game’s oldest championship – his machine-like game was always going to be a perfect fit for a brown and bouncy links like Carnoustie and a topsy-turvy final round.
“I told his caddie earlier this week, because I didn’t want to say it to [Molinari], I have a good feeling this week,” said Molinari’s swing coach Denis Pugh. “It was the perfect combination of clarity and confidence.”
With the sun splashing against the baked-out fairways, Molinari emerged from the clubhouse, wide-eyed and a little dazed after what could only be described as a major melee, his no-nonsense, fairways-and-greens game the perfect tonic for an Open that defied clarity until the very end.
Spieth and Schauffele were put on the clock Sunday
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Contending in a major championship on what is largely considered the toughest major championship course can be hard enough, but as Jordan Spieth reached the 10th tee box, he was given another layer of anxiety.
Spieth, who was playing with Xander Schauffele on Sunday at Carnoustie, was informed that his group had fallen behind and been put on the clock. On the next tee, he was given a “bad time” for taking too long to hit his drive.
“I handled it OK, but looking back, you know, that was a turning point in the round,” said Spieth, who played Nos. 10 and 11 in even par and finished tied for ninth after a closing 76. “If you get 1 under on those two holes with a downwind par 5 left [No. 14], it's a different story.”
Spieth, who began the day tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under, had dropped out the top spot with a double bogey-7 at the sixth hole. He was tied for the lead when officials put his group on the clock.
“I took over the allotted time on the tee on 11 to decide on 3-iron or 3-wood, but throughout the day, I think I played the fastest golf I've probably ever played while contending in a tournament,” he said.
Woods (T-6) qualifies for WGC-Bridgestone via OWGR
After narrowly missing out on a 15th major title at Carnoustie, Tiger Woods can take solace in the fact that he earned a return to Firestone Country Club by the thinnest of margins.
Woods was ranked No. 71 in the world entering The Open, and the top 50 in the rankings on both July 23 and July 30 will earn invites to the upcoming WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Despite missing a short birdie putt on the 72nd hole, Woods' three-way tie for sixth was enough to lift him to exactly 50th in the updated rankings.
It means that Woods will return to Akron in two weeks despite starting the year ranked No. 656. Firestone's South Course is the site of eight of Woods' 79 career PGA Tour victories, including his most recent worldwide victory back in 2013 when he won by seven shots. He has not played the invitation-only event since withdrawing in 2014 because of injury.
That's also the last time that Woods played in any of the four WGC events.
Woods had stated for several weeks that he hoped to return to Firestone this summer, given that the tournament will permanently shift to TPC Southwind in Memphis beginning next year. While he had the option to play next week's RBC Canadian Open to bolster his world ranking, Woods reiterated in recent weeks that his status for Akron would simply hinge on his performance in The Open.
"One of my goals is to get into Akron one last time before we leave there," Woods said at The Players Championship in May. "I've won there eight times and I'd love to get there with one more chance."
Speaking to reporters after a final-round 71, Woods explained that he thought he needed a top-4 finish to qualify and had fallen short. Instead, his 5-under total and best finish in a major since the 2013 Open at Muirfield proved to be just enough.
Woods will now take a week off before teeing it up in Akron Aug. 2-5, followed by an appearance the following week at the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.