IT WAS an ocean too far. Less than 48 hours after holing out in his first Seniors’ event in Pittsburgh, Colin Montgomerie made a valiant effort in yesterday’s Local Final Qualifying at Gullane but was running on empty by the time the disappointment of missing out on a third successive Open Championship started to sink in.
“I threw it away,” sighed the newly-turned 50-year-old in reference to having been five-under-par with six holes to play in his opening round before having to settle for a two-under 69. An afternoon 76, which contained just one birdie, left him four shots outside the qualifying mark in an event offering just three spots at Muirfield in a fortnight’s time.
“I just played badly this afternoon – I did not get going at all,” added Montgomerie, who made 21 consecutive appearances in the Open before losing his exemption and, with the competitive fires still burning, will be hurting like hell about missing out on the event’s 142nd staging on the East Lothian coast.
On a miserable day, though not nearly as bad as the Saturday at Muirfield in 2002 when Montgomerie slumped to an 84 – 20 shots more than his second-round effort – the group in front of the Scot were put on the clock in the afternoon. “The pace of play was shocking, but that wasn’t the reason I didn’t qualify,” declared Montgomerie.
Forced to try to qualify for the world’s oldest major for the third year running – he had played at Sunningdale in the European International Final Qualifier on the two previous occasions – Montgomerie’s body clock must have been all to pot when he stepped on to the first tee just after 8.30am.
He had faced a mad dash back from Pittsburgh, where he tied for ninth on his over-50s debut in the US Senior Players Championship on Sunday night, and only got home to his home in Dunning around tea time on Monday night before driving down to East Lothian early yesterday morning.
After a quick warm up, Montgomerie looked relaxed as he broke off momentarily from hitting some practice putts to chat to some Broomieknowe members, commenting to them about how the purse he had been playing for at the weekend had been bigger than that on offer in the Irish Open.
Watched by a crowd of around 200 interested onlookers, Montgomerie opted for an iron off the first, safely found the fairway and immediately showed he didn’t seem bothered by those spectators getting up close and personal – there are no ropes for them to stay behind in this event – as he set up an instant birdie with a wedge to three feet.
Playing with two players less than half his age – Archerfield’s Zack Saltman, 24, and English teenager Max Orrin – Montgomerie was longer than the two young bucks when they all hit drivers at the second, where the 2010 European Ryder Cup captain came up short right with his approach but salvaged a par-4 by coaxing in a five-footer with a good bit of break in it.
During a wait to play his second at the par-5 fifth, he made a fuss over a young girl out watching with her mum before rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt there. A touch fortunate to come out of a fairway bunker at the fifth, he made the most of the break by hitting his approach to four feet and holed that one, too.
As the rain became heavier, the view from the seventh tee certainly wasn’t at its best and, though things were going according to plan at that stage, Montgomerie resisted the temptation to turn round and look over to Muirfield, where the stands and tents are already in place for the main event.
His hopes of being part of that extravaganza again increased when two more birdies – at the ninth and 12th – took him to five-under, by which time Swede Klas Eriksson had just set the clubhouse target with a three-under 68. Then the first signs of tiredness started to show. His first bogey of the day – at the 13th – was quickly followed by three more in the next four holes. At least he finished with a flourish, holing a 15-footer for a birdie at the last, by which time the crowd had swelled to around the 300-mark. It left him signing for a two-under 69 but, faced with just 35 minutes before setting out for round two, he wasn’t hanging around for any interviews. “I’ve got to get something to eat then I’m off again,” was all he offered.
Around four hours later, he wasn’t really for talking either after a second-round 76 meant it was mission unaccomplished. His sole birdie in the afternoon came at the third, but it was followed by a run of four bogeys and a double-bogey in the next eight holes. His frustration was evident at the eighth, where, after splashing out from a greenside bunker, he rammed the club into his bag then kicked the rake.
“I’d love to have played at Muirfield and, after being five-under after 12, it’s very disappointing,” he concluded afterwards before heading off to lick his wounds and prepare for next week’s US Senior Open in Nebraska.
Also returning to Senior service is 53-year-old Andrew Oldcorn, who was in contention after an opening 70, but then pulled out after eight holes in the afternoon. “My back was starting to hurt, I’ve a sore knee and the bad weather’s done for me really,” said the former PGA champion. “In hindsight it probably wasn’t the best move to enter this in the same week I’ve got a European Seniors Tour event in Switzerland.”
English amateur Ben Stow claimed top spot with a two-under-par total of 138 (72, 68), beating countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick and Sweden’s Oscar Floren, who led after the first round of last week’s Irish Open by a shot. Another amateur, Fraser Moore from Glenbervie, shared the lead after a morning 68 and was on course for victory until dropping five shots in his last six holes, agonisingly missing out on a play-off by a shot.