SIMILAR to the giant cargo ships sitting in the Indian Ocean adjacent to Durban Country Club, Colin Montgomerie’s career was becalmed when he teed up in the Volvo Golf Champions at the same venue 12 months ago.
Since setting sail on his new career in the seniors ranks, though, the eight-times European No 1 feels his game has been rejuvenated and, as a consequence, has welcomed in 2014 with renewed confidence.
Even on a course he feels more at home than the long monsters that host the majority of professional events these days, it’s probably unlikely that Montgomerie can chalk up his 32nd European Tour victory this weekend.
But he’s not made the long journey to the Eastern Cape simply to make up the numbers – Montgomerie is in the circuit’s “Tournament of Champions” from last season on the strength of having won ten or more titles in his career – and the Scot is determined to use this appearance, as well as two during the Middle East swing, as a springboard for a fruitful year.
“I definitely feel as though my game has been rejuvenated,” Montgomerie told The Scotsman. “Between 47 and 50, I was really treading water, to be honest. Now I’m teeing it up with a realistic chance, certainly in seniors’ golf, of winning, which is great.
“This is also a course I could do quite well on. [At under 6,700 yards] it’s not the longest course in the world. I can get on in two at three out of the par-5s so there’s no reason why I can’t do quite well, especially after finishing last year off quite well.
“Abu Dhabi [venue for next week’s HSBC Championship] is a longer course, but I enjoy it there while Dubai [where he’ll be among the former winners lining up in the 25th staging of the Desert Classic at the end of the month] is a course where I feel I can still compete.
“I’m missing Qatar [the second of the Middle East Swing events] as I feel that course doesn’t suit me. But, after Dubai, I’m off to Florida for two Champions Tour events, so I’m playing five out of the first six weeks of the year. I’m probably playing far more golf now than I ever have.”
In his first season – half of one – in the over-50s ranks, Montgomerie recorded a runaway victory at Woburn on the European Senior Tour while, on the Champions Tour in America, his best performance came with a last throw of the dice which saw him finish third in an event in Texas.
“Having played seven or eight tournaments in America now, I’m very excited about what lies ahead in 2014,” he admitted. “The standard of golf, especially on the Champions Tour, exceeded my expectations, which is good in many ways.
“If you do well, then you’ll be rewarded for that. I’ll be playing in 18 out of the 26 events on the Champions Tour this year, which is classified a full schedule, and I’m looking forward to being able to compete.
“I probably should have done better in the last event in San Antonio, having led by two shots heading into the final nine then finishing third after letting it slip a wee bit. But, at the same time, it gives me confidence that I can go over there and hopefully win before too long.”
Having played in the event eight times before leading Europe to victory at Celtic Manor in 2010, it seems a touch ironic that Montgomerie won’t be involved in this year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles – the first to be staged in the home of golf since 1973.
Exactly a year ago, he still harboured hopes of earning a second stint as captain before the European Tour’s tournament players’ committee handed the post to Paul McGinley.
“It was obvious that the committee decided they didn’t want anyone that had done the job before,” reflected the Scot. “So, looking back, I’ve no regrets and I’ve always wished Paul McGinley all the best in his endeavours.”
Living in Dunning and a regular visitor to the Gleneagles resort with his family, Montgomerie is well aware of the anticipation brewing locally and wishes the opportunity to play in a Ryder Cup on home soil had come along a bit earlier.
“If it was six years ago that Scotland was hosting the event again, I’d have had a chance of playing and that would have been great,” he said. “I’d loved to have played in Scotland, having enjoyed home Ryder Cups in England, Spain and Ireland in my career. But, unfortunately, that’s not to be.
“We use the hotel at Gleneagles a lot. In fact, we had Christmas lunch up there. We’re all members of the club as well and use the facilities so we see the new spa being developed on the back of a new Dormy House and new this and that. It’s all being done for three days of competition, which is amazing, but it is nice to see it evolving again as Gleneagles is such an iconic name in golf.
“They are also currently doing up the local railway station, which is great, and that’s probably going to be the best way to travel to the Ryder Cup. If I was a spectator, I’d be coming up from Glasgow or Edinburgh on the train and walking from the station.”
As a staunch supporter of European golf, Montgomerie is well aware of how McGinley’s team is shaping up but feels it is too early for any player – Henrik Stenson apart – to be counting their chickens just yet. That will be music to the ears of Scottish hopefuls such as Stephen Gallacher, Paul Lawrie and Marc Warren, but, as they all know, it’s imperative they get into the world’s top 50 quickly.
“It is still very early days and for me, the first time to really look at the standings is after The Masters as we’ll have had the WGC Match Play as well by then,” he said. “There will be some debutants. Victor Dubuisson will be in, I’m sure, as he only needs to have a half-decent year after what he’s done so far [winning the Turkish Airlines Open then finishing third in the Tour Championship in Dubai]. Thomas Bjorn also looks like he’s going to make it again, which is great. I’d have preferred him to have been playing than watching, as he was in 2010.
“But [with Craig Lee, who is outside the top 20 on the two qualifying lists that will provide the nine automatic qualifiers for McGinley’s team, currently best-placed] the Scots do indeed have a tough task on their hands.
“They’ve got to get in the top 50 in the world, for starters, as it is very difficult, probably nigh on impossible, to make the Ryder Cup team starting outside that. You are missing out on the majors and the WGC events and that’s where the big money and points are.”