COLIN Montgomerie conquered both mental and physical battles to win a third over-50s major in a year by retaining his Senior PGA Championship title.
The 51-year-old was handed an early boost in the final round at French Lick, Indiana, when Bernhard Langer, his closest challenger, stumbled to a double bogey at the second to douse the German’s flame.
“It was very tiring mentally and physically for me. I could never relax”Colin Montgomerie
The Scot then matched Esteban Toledo, a former boxer, blow for blow for a few holes on the front nine as the Mexican twice got within a shot of the lead. Montgomerie chalked up an impressive four-stroke victory after signing off with a 69 for an eight-under-par 280 total, but he insisted it had been anything but a stroll in the park.
Indeed, such were his concentration levels on the extremely hilly Pete Dye-designed course that he broke a lifetime habit by not looking at scoreboards over the closing few holes.
“It was a difficult position to be in to start the day, to be honest,” said the Scot after catapulting himself into top spot in the Charles Schwab Cup standings. “When you are three ahead, there’s nowhere to go, really, but down. Also, with every hole out there a potential double-bogey threat, I could never relax. It was very tiring mentally as well as physically for me. Every shot had to be executed properly or else you’re in trouble.
“I know exactly where I stand on the course, more so than some players. But I didn’t look at the scoreboards much at all from the 13th onwards. I was just trying to find the fairways, find the middle of the greens or the position of the greens where I could two-putt from.
“My biggest threat at the start of the day was Bernhard Langer, but he got an unlucky bounce at the second and made a double bogey. Once you have done that around here, it’s almost impossible to claw it back.
“Esteban did extremely well to get within one at one stage, but I think to average four 70s around here is as good as I could ever have done. If I had come here in the 90s at No 2 in the world, as I was in 1997, and shot eight-under in these conditions, I would have been thrilled.”
The win meant Montgomerie emulated Jack Nicklaus by claiming majors in each of his first three wins on the Champions Tour, having also triumphed in the US Senior Open last year in between this Senior PGA double. “Any time that you emulate something that Jack Nicklaus has achieved, even in senior golf, you are very honoured,” he admitted.
It has also earned him a place in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits later in the year, which will come after a US Open appearance at Chambers Bay next month – the week before his US Senior Open title in Sacramento.
“This has given me great confidence to go forward now with the rest of the year,” he admitted. “I’ve [now] got seven majors to play in this year and I’m looking forward to them all.”
Montgomerie picked out “patience” and “confidence” as the key ingredients for his latest success. He also attributed the longer duration of majors and the way courses are set up for those tests for his success in such tournaments compared to having drawn a blank so far in regular Champions Tour events.
“I prefer the four-round events and I prefer the set-up of majors,” he said. “They are more to the ilk that I used to play on. And, make no bones about it, this felt like Harbor Shores did last year. This felt like me playing in a major of 20 years ago. This is a terrific layout and a fantastically difficult golf course. Anybody that broke par for the week must have played extremely well, because that was a test and a half, believe me.”
Montgomerie revealed he had his trusty caddie, Fifer Alistair McLean, to thank for him being properly prepared for the final round following an uncustomary post-round visit to the practice range on Saturday evening.
“I hadn’t driven as well as I wanted to [in the third round] and Alastair said, ‘come on, let’s sort this out’,” he revealed. “I wouldn’t normally practise after a round, but he was right, because it meant I could go away feeling happier, even though I was leading by three shots.”