Colin Montgomerie is planning to try to qualify for the Open Championship again this summer after enjoying his return to the event on home turf at Royal Troon last July after a five-year absence.
But the Scot’s top target in 2017 remains exactly the same as when he joined the over-50s ranks, trying to beat his long-time friend, Bernhard Langer, in the battle to be No 1 on the Champions Tour.
For the last three seasons, Montgomerie has finished runner-up to the German in the Charles Schwab Cup, which sees Langer already out in front this year after the 59-year-old won the weather-curtailed Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii last month. The pair are set to lock horns in this week’s Allianz Championship in Florida, the first full-field event of the campaign, with Montgomerie having been urged by Langer himself to not give up in his bid to try to topple him.
“We had an awards ceremony in Hawaii. Charles Schwab was there himself, also Tim Finchem [the recently retired PGA Tour commissioner] and Greg McLaughlin, our commissioner,” Montgomerie told The Scotsman. “In his speech, Bernhard said that we’d done well to finish first and second three years in a row, considering that we are both European. He finished off by saying: ‘Keep trying Monty, keep trying’. It was very funny. I don’t think he meant it that way, but it was how it came out. He’s my nemesis out here, there’s no doubt about that. But, by god, I will be trying this season.”
Montgomerie has recorded four wins, including three majors, since he joined the Champions Tour. He’s had 36 top 10s and missed just one cut in 69 events. With Langer having won 38 times in 188 starts, though, it’s easy to see why Montgomerie and all the other campaigners on the circuit have their work cut out.
“Whatever anyone thinks about Bernhard Langer, you’ve got to remember that he was one of the five Europeans who were in the top six in the world at one time, Fred Couples being the player who got in the way, so to speak,” recalled Montgomerie. “He’s the one that has sustained, not just his golf but also his fitness and his dedication to the game. Everything about the guy, the ambassadorial nature of him, the diplomatic nature of him, the whole thing is quite extraordinary and you have to say ‘well done’, you really have.
“Out here, you normally have four or five, possibly six, years to do something. He’s 60 this year and it is quite amazing that he’s kept it going. You’ve got to take your hat off to the guy. His worst finish last year in 22 events and, believe me, the standard is bloody good, was 13th. His average finish was less than third. I think it was 2.8 or something, which is ridiculous.
“However, having finished second to him the last three years, of course I’m hungry to win this thing. In Hawaii last month, I was teeing off at 1pm in the afternoon, but I was on the putting green just after 9am. That’s very rare for me, but it’s what I need to do. Let’s try to put everything into this year and go one better. I will try to get as close as I can to Bernhard.”
Montgomerie came through qualifying at Gailes Links to secure his spot in last summer’s Open Championship at Royal Troon. He was handed the honour of hitting the opening tee shot at his home club, made the cut on the mark before finishing 78th behind Henrik Stenson.
“My schedule does include trying to qualify for The Open,” he revealed about an event taking place at Royal Birkdale. “The whole thrill of playing in the event again last year was fantastic. My big regret was the fact that I wasn’t actually playing well heading into Royal Troon. I was pulling the ball off the tee, everything was going left, in fact, and it was my putting that was saving me.
“It’s the one championship I feel that if it is fast running, which Troon wasn’t unfortunately, I can compete.
“I can’t compete now in events where I’m being out-driven by 60-70 yards on US Open, The Masters and the PGA. But I can compete – and I think a few other players in their 50s have said this – in The Open if the conditions are in my favour.”
Joining Montgomerie in the $1.75 million Allianz Championship, which starts tomorrow on The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, are two other winning European Ryder Cup captains as Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul McGinley both make their Champions Tour debuts.