COLIN Montgomerie, the host of this week’s Turkish Airlines Open, has no intention of allowing himself to simply make up the numbers in his first European Tour appearance since June.
The 50-year-old heads into the £4.5 million event at the Montgomerie Maxx course on the back of a promising start to his Senior career, having followed up a first win on the European circuit – by six shots at Woburn – with his best effort so far on the Champions Tour in the US when he finished third in the AT&T Championship a fortnight ago.
While enjoying his new challenges, the Scot is now looking forward to returning to his old stomping ground and lining up in a field that is headed by world No 1 Tiger Woods and also includes three of the top four in the Race to Dubai – Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter.
“This is the first time Turkey has hosted an official European Tour event so it is very exciting for everyone concerned,” Montgomerie told The Scotsman.
“I’m proud to be associated with the Turkish Airlines Open. My course in Bahrain has hosted a Tour event and the one at Carton House in Ireland quite a few. Indeed, Paul Casey has won on both of them so he’s probably going to be the favourite this week.
“But it’s the first time that Tiger Woods will have played on one of my courses and I’m honoured that he’s here. It is great when you are effectively hosting an event for the top players in the world. I just hope the European Tour set it up in the way it was meant to be played. It has matured since it first opened and will be quite a challenge off the back tees.”
While disappointed that he was unable to hold on to a last-round lead in the AT&T Championship in San Antonio, Texas – Kenny Perry eventually beat Bernhard Langer in a play-off – Montgomerie has been pleased with his first season among the golden oldies.
Most of it was spent on the other side of the Atlantic and that will be the same next year, but Montgomerie has no plans at the moment to base himself full-time in the States.
Nor, thankfully, is he developing an American accent. “I’ll leave that to Graeme McDowell,” quipped the eight-times European Tour No 1.
Reflecting on a year which saw him win just over $320,000 on the Champions Tour alone, he added: “It’s gone not too bad, although I should have won the one last week, when I was two shots ahead with nine holes to go. But to be competing against the likes of Kenny Perry and Bernhard Langer is okay. It gives me confidence going into next year.
“It’s always nice to win, so getting my first Senior Tour victory at Woburn was pleasing. Even more so to do it with Alastair [McLean] on the bag again. I’ve also found my feet now in the US having recorded a couple of top tens. I’ve also been made to feel very welcome over there, which has been great.
“I have spoken to Bernhard Langer quite a bit about how much he enjoys being based in the US and playing mainly on the Champions Tour. In effect, he’s made a new life for himself over there, which is good.
“I can’t see myself doing that, though, as it would mean having to move the whole family over and Gaynor’s youngest daughter is just 13. So I’ll just have to buy a season-ticket for aeroplanes. I’ve been back and forth over the Atlantic this year then, after Turkey, I’m off to Korea, Japan and Sydney with Aberdeen Asset Management. For someone who doesn’t really like flying, it’s quite a job I’ve found!”
As Montgomerie heads into the first of a series of European Tour events on his schedule – he’s also playing in the Volvo Champions in South Africa early in January then taking in the Middle East Swing – he says his putting, in particular, is more effective since his last appearance on the circuit in the BMW International Open in Munich.
“My putting has improved a lot,” he declared. “On the main Tour, the four-round events are a marathon but the three-round Senior Tour events are more like a sprint. So you have to putt well. If you’re not, you know someone else will be. It has definitely improved and now I’m hoping I can have another good week on the greens in Turkey.
“I’m looking forward to all these European Tour events coming up and can hopefully give a good account of myself in all of them. Turkey is first and I’ll be trying my best to win one of these new Final Series events.”
For the first time in his career, Montgomerie will end his season without having played competitively in Scotland, discounting, that is, his appearance at Gullane in the qualifying for the Open Championship at neighbouring Muirfield.
“Missing events like the Scottish Open, Johnnie Walker Championship and Dunhill Links was very odd, to be honest,” he admitted. “But, after 20 years of playing on the European Tour, I’ve got to think now where my future is and the Champions Tour schedule meant that was out in the US. But I’m sure I’ll play in those events again at some stage in the future.
“Next year, though, my schedule will be mainly based in the US. I think there are 26 events on the Champions Tour schedule and I’ll probably play in 19 or 20 of them. But I’ll also have five or six European Tour events then a few on the European Senior Tour, including the defence of my title at Woburn. I’ll be delighted to do that.”
Montgomerie broke his trip from Texas to Turkey with a stopover in Dubai. “Gaynor was over with the family,” he said. “It was important to spend some time with them as I didn’t see Gaynor for three weeks due to being over in the States. Spending some time in Dubai allowed me to practice in the morning then have some quality time with her and the family in the afternoon and evening.”