TOM Watson, who has won 14 times since he turned 50, believes Colin Montgomerie joining the Senior circuit later this year will be a “major story” but is adamant the Scot will have his work cut out to dominate his new environment.
Montgomerie celebrates his 50th birthday in June and could make his debut in the Senior Players Championship in Pittsburgh at the end of that month instead of waiting until the Senior Open at Royal Birkdale in July.
In an autobiography published last year, the eight-times European No 1 revealed he’d be aiming high when he started the new chapter in his career, writing: “I may as well come clean and say I am tempted by the idea of a senior grand slam.”
Montgomerie has been encouraged by seeing Englishman Roger Chapman land two Senior majors in his rookie season last year, but, according to Watson, the Scot could be in for a shock when he sees the standard of golf played by the over-50s brigade.
“The beautiful thing about our Champions Tour [the Senior circuit in the United States] is that every year we have named players coming on to it that are a story,” said Watson, who has won six Senior majors to add to the eight he racked up before turning 50 himself.
“Colin Montgomerie joining is certainly a major story for the Tour. I fully expect Monty to play well out here, as he still drives the ball great and can hole putts, too.
“But the question with him and others is ‘can they dominate the Tour?’ There’s only been two players over the years who have truly done that – one being Lee Trevino and the other Hale Irwin. There are players who have had really good runs. Bernhard Langer, for example, has had a wonderful run in recent years. But no-one else has dominated the Champions Tour.”
Sandy Lyle is still trying to land his first win on that US circuit, never mind a major, and he reckons Montgomerie only needs to look at his good friend and former Ryder Cup partner Langer as the barometer for the level of performance he’s going to have to produce to taste success as a ‘golden oldie’.
“I think he might get quite a surprise,” said Lyle, who joined the Senior circuit in 2008 but has only managed to muster one victory to date – the ISPS Handa World Championship in China two years ago.
Lyle said: “He’s obviously stayed competitive but look at some of the scores Langer shoots. He averages about 67 a round most events and we don’t play on pushover golf courses. He’ll probably find that 12 or 15-under wins at Birkdale, which is pretty good going over four days.
“These guys are shooting six unders and it’s not like we are playing off the ladies’ tees and just chipping and putting. The shortest course we play is Newport Beach, which is 6,700 yards. Generally they are anywhere between 7,100 and 7,400 yards.”
It had been thought that Montgomerie’s first appearance in the Senior ranks would be in Britain in the summer, but that may have changed on the back of his impending induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, which has secured him an automatic card for the Champions Tour. “I had planned to make my veterans’ debut at the Seniors British Open at Royal Birkdale at the end of July. But I will likely make my bow in the States now,” admitted Montgomerie.
“Considering my previous relationship with the American galleries, many might see the irony in me joining their Tour. I always resisted joining the PGA Tour. It just shows how things change. I know I said I would never play Seniors’ golf but I have since learned you should never say ‘never’.
“I have missed standing on a tee with the belief ‘I can win this event’. In truth, I have not experienced that feeling for three years – probably not since I took on the Ryder Cup captaincy.
“Roger Chapman’s feat of winning two senior majors last year in America has shown me what is possible. I want to win a major, I want to be competitive again. Playing well to finish 20th on the European Tour does not really do it for me. There might also be opportunities for me on American television – I did a few guest spots on the Golf Channel during the Ryder Cup – and, with Sky as well, this could tie in with my schedule over there. It is very exciting.”
In addition to the Senior Players Championship, Montgomerie will also be eligible for this year’s US Senior Open under the category of playing members of the five most current United States and European Ryder Cup teams. However, that event at Omaha Country Club in Nebraska on 11-14 July clashes with the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart and it’s highly unlikely the former winner will miss out on his main home event on the European Tour.