It wasn’t the sentimental last hurrah of legends like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, who each bade farewell to the Open at St Andrews.
Nicklaus was the centre of a media circus when he bowed out in 2005, taking with him a final birdie on the Old Course 18th and memories of a rousing standing ovation from crowds that were ten deep.
Tom Watson was one of his playing partners that day and, when he decided enough was enough last year, the occasion was another emotional love-in and memorable for the fact hardy souls hung around well into the fading light to witness the final image of him crossing the Swilcan Bridge and give him the send-off he deserved.
The contrast between those farewells and what Colin Montgomerie admits could be his final Open appearance was sizeable. Royal Troon may be Monty’s home course but it is not the iconic home of golf. And his closing round wasn’t so much a victory lap, more a walk of shame. As night turned to day he tried to get back indoors before most souls had wrapped up breakfast.
Having finished rock bottom of the 81-man pack after the third round on Saturday, he was accompanied only by an R&A appointed marker, the club pro Kieron Stevenson, who he says he has known for nine years, while a few dozen paying customers and a solitary member of the press pack watched.
The passageway under the grandstand at the first tee was emblazoned by artificial light that dazzled against the backdrop of skies that still waited patiently for the sun to completely rise and grey with the foreboding portent of rain. Down the fairway, the glass-fronted Sky studio shone like some kind of alien aircraft, while the electronic scoreboards could have served as landing lights for nearby Prestwick Airport.
It was an inauspicious start to what may yet prove to have been the end of an Open association that now spans 22 championships. “Well, yeah. You’ve got to be realistic and think that it might well be the last time I’m here at an Open. I’d love to think it won’t be, but, yeah, it might well be. It’s good to finish with six pars there. Good to hit a nice 4-iron into the last hole and have a chance at birdie and finish off.”
That shot into the last green was one of his best approaches of the day, the fact he failed to capitalise on it summed up his week. He said he had never envisaged winning the Claret Jug when he embarked on the latest adventure, hitting the first ball of the championships on Thursday – his game is not in a good enough place for that at the moment, the weather conditions never likely to be conducive to him serving up a fairytale. “The goal at the start of the week was to play on Sunday, really. Anything beyond that was a bonus.”
But there was no dream curtain call, acerbically noted by one unimpressed punter, who stopped to suss out the Scot’s progress for a few holes on the back nine before declaring it a waste of time. “There’s no point watching this,” he said. “He’s having a nightmare.”
It was one Montgomerie looked like he was hoping to awake from as early as the fourth, where he found another bunker. It had been relatively warm and fuzzy up until then. The reception on that first tee had been vociferous from the somewhat spartan crowd and he had warmed to it and he was happy to nod as the odd fan clapped his progress, or offered an encouraging ‘C’mon Monty!’ as he headed down the fairway. Occasionally there was recognition of a familiar face, prompting a finger point and a grin, and he even waved up at his chums in the Sky studios and vocally congratulated his playing partner on noteworthy shots.
But bunkers seemed to be the least of his irritations as he headed further out to the turn and although the rain stopped, allowing him to strip off his waterproof layers, the wind wrought havoc on club selection and he was having difficulty keeping his head and his headwear. With kite surfers on the Firth of Clyde making the most of the gales, on land, he had been forced to remove the visor as he putted on the first, worried that it was about to take flight. It was a fear that proved well-founded later on. A lovely tee shot at the Postage Stamp set him up for his only birdie on a day when he carded six bogeys for a tournament total of 17-over 301, and he was given a decent ovation from the grandstand flanking that green. But as he headed down the hill to hole out, a gust of wind whipped his visor off his napper. It prompted a pithy shout of ‘Hats off to Monty!’ and some chuckles in the stand. There was no reaction from the man himself, whose good mood was on the wane. He glared at punters who fidgeted, he offered a death stare to an oblivious worker nipping by in a cart, snapped at marshals and glowered at wayward balls.
Getting around in 2 hours 50 minutes – a time the 53-year-old says is more than adequate and should be noted by the serial slowcoaches who swamp the sport these days – he ended the misery as swiftly as he could and was soon heading up the 18th. By that time the crowds lining the ropes had grown and the applause was generous, something he acknowledged.
“Just a shame I was on my own because the stands were empty, really. And it was a pity. I’d love to play in the middle of the pack where the stands are beginning to become full, and that would have been more emotional, possibly, than it was when they’re empty. But I got a good ovation, anyway, which was super from the following crowd walking around with the group.”
And, with the round and his tournament over, he finally recovered some of his humour, even if he was knackered. “I’m tired now, very tired. I’m the leader in the clubhouse again, second time this week!” he said with a twinkle in his eye, aware that was simply due to the fact he was best of the trio who headed out first on Thursday and was the first to complete his four holes yesterday. “So if everything goes really badly, you never know! They say it’s not finished until the last putt’s holed. So we’ll see.”
At that stage he was 29 shots behind overnight leader Henrik Stenson so he knew there was no comeback. Not this year’s Open and perhaps never, ever again.