So far, so good. “It’s been a great two years for me,” declared Colin Montgomerie of starting off his new career in the over-50s ranks with three majors, two European money-list titles and a brace of second places on the Champions Tour order of merit. Amazing, really, for someone who once turned up his nose at the prospect of leaving the main circuits behind to become one of the old guys.
“When I said I wouldn’t play senior golf, what the hell was I going to do at 50?” he asked, laughing. “Okay, I could have got the pensions together and found a way of retiring. But I thought to myself, ‘hang on a minute, that’s bloody silly’. I enjoy the competition and the Champions Tour has given me that competitive edge again and it’s brilliant. I was thinking about giving up at 50, but now it will be 60.”
Backing up his encouraging “rookie” campaign, Montgomerie retained the Senior PGA Championship this year, finished second in the US Senior Open and led the Charles Schwab Cup right through until the last event only to be pipped for the No 1 spot on the Champions Tour by Bernhard Langer.
“I’d definitely take the success I’ve achieved so far if I was starting out again,” the 52-year-old told The Scotsman after arriving home in Perthshire after another lengthy stint on the road in America, literally so as he drove around 4,000 miles between events prior to the season-ending tournament in Arizona. “I’d not played much in the last four years of my European Tour life, really. From 46 to 50 wasn’t really much fun having to compete against guys hitting it 350 yards. Now it’s a more level playing field and I’m enjoying it.
“In a way, this was a frustrating season this year in the sense that I had golden opportunities to win many events and didn’t take them. It started in the first event in Hawaii, then in the third event I was leading by two going into the last round. That type of thing made it frustrating. But, believe it or not, it finished on a high even though I was overtaken in the Charles Schwab Cup in the last event. I wasn’t playing well going into that tournament, having lost my rhythm and swing at the end of the year.
“But I went down to Carlsbad in California to see two guys at Odyssey Putters called Nick Arther and Randy Peterson at the Ely Callaway Performance Center, which I actually opened in 1995. I found out from using the technology there why I wasn’t putting well and I actually putted very well on the last two days in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship to finish second on the money list, staying ahead of Jeff Maggert. I was thrilled by that and now I’m excited for the new season.”
For Langer, next year will see him competing without the long putter he’s wielded magnificently to claim an astonishing 25 victories on the Champions Tour due to the anchoring ban coming into effect on 1 January. “We think as a group – and this is a conservative estimate – that Bernhard will be a shot-and-a-half a round worse off as he was this year,” predicted Montgomerie of the challenge facing his former Ryder Cup partner. “He uses that long putter very well, holing out incredibly well, and we think he will suffer. He’s that bloody good, of course, that he will probably find a way to still get the ball in the hole, but four-and-a-half shots in a 54-hole event and six in a major is a big difference. Let’s see what happens.”
Montgomerie’s last hurrah in 2015 comes in Mauritius next week, when he heads into the MCB Tour Championship with a second successive European Senior Tour money-title already in the bag. “It’s about time I really contended there,” he said of having finished sixth behind Englishman Paul Wesselingh the past two years. “I’m definitely going there looking to finish off the year with a win.”
His 2016 schedule will include a return to Scottish Open action when the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event heads back to Castle Stuart. If not already secured, it will be an opportunity to try and get into the Open Championship the following week on “home soil” at Royal Troon.
While the BMW PGA Championship, an event he won at Wentworth three years in a row from 1998-2000, is no longer in his sights, Montgomerie said he’d taken exception to Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s new chief executive, claiming he didn’t feel it was the circuit’s marquee tournament. “I was very surprised he said that because it is the flagship event and it has been since the Tour started,” insisted the Scot. “I’m sure I’m talking on behalf of all the great PGA champions – among them Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam – when I say that and long may that continue to be the case.”
Montgomerie praised Pelley, however, for showing ambition in trying to make the European Tour a “viable alternative” to the PGA Tour and also for offering a carrot to support the French Open – it will carry double Ryder Cup points and also count as two starts – when it clashes with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational next July. “He’s encouraging people to play more in Europe and that’s what sponsors will want to hear. He’s been pro-active there, which is great. But it can’t be just for the French Open. It has to be for a number of tournaments and it isn’t going to be easy for Keith.”
The same, of course, could be said for anyone trying to beat Montgomerie’s record of eight European Order of Merit titles. Having just racked up No 3 at the age of 26, however, Rory McIlroy looks set to be a serious threat. “If I was to lose that record to Rory, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?” said one of the Northern Irishman’s biggest fans. “And, if he stays fit and also retains the hunger and ambition, then he has every opportunity to do it.”