BUOYED by a career-first putting feat, Colin Montgomerie is heading into back-to-back Senior majors over the next two weeks with high hopes of seeing his consistency in the over-50s ranks this season produce a breakthrough Champions Tour triumph.
The eight-times European No 1 has chalked up six straight top-10 finishes so far this year on the US circuit, including a second in the Toshiba Classic in California and, in his most recent outing, third in the Insperity Invitational in Texas.
He is lying fourth in the Schwab Cup standings with earnings of just over £275,000 – more than he picked up in his ten events in the second half of last season – and is in a happy place going into the year’s opening two majors.
First up, starting tomorrow at Shoal Creek in Alabama, is the Regions Tradition, an event won four times by Jack Nicklaus, then it’s on to Harbour Shores in Michigan for next week’s Senior PGA Championship. “If you include the event at the end of last season in San Antonio, that’s seven in a row, which is okay,” noted the 50-year-old of a consistent run of form that was once his trademark on the regular Tour.
“I think I’m playing better because I am playing more. Towards the end of your career on the European Tour you are perhaps only playing once a month and you are rusty because of that. Playing week in, week out is much better for me and I am playing better than I have for ten years, I really am.”
Montgomerie won first time out in a regular European Senior Tour event, running away with the Travis Perkins Senior Masters at Woburn last September, but has been denied so far on the other side of the Atlantic by the likes of Bernhard Langer, who has just racked up a 20th title on the Champions Tour, Fred Couples and Kenny Perry.
“In terms of winning, I’ve just come up against a brick wall in Bernhard and Fred in particular,” he admitted, though sounding upbeat nonetheless. “I’m coming towards the end of my first year as a Senior – 23 June is when I started – and it’s been a super year,” he added. “I’ve really enjoyed it. I never normally pay much attention to stats, but I was looking at some the other night and noticed I’m leading the putting stats (with an average of 27.67 per round) on the Champions Tour this season. That’s something I’ve never done before – not in Europe far less America. I’m holing out well and that’s enabling me to get these top-10 finishes.
“I’m using one of the Odyssey Tank putters, which is counter-balanced in terms of weight. There’s weight in the grip end as well as the head and it’s much better for me. That’s reflected in those stats and I couldn’t believe it when I saw that I was topping the putting table this year.
“I’d like to think a win is around the corner but who knows? If I finish three or four shots ahead of the likes of Langer, who is unbelievable, and Couples, then I’ll have done bloody well. I’d like to think the door will open one day and I’ve just got to keep putting in these consistent performances in the hope it will.
“I’m getting to the standard I could see I had to reach when I played in my first few Senior events last year. It’s been a learning process. For instance, it’s only three rounds. It’s a bit of a sprint rather than a marathon.
“These next two events – both majors – are over four rounds and that will be good for me. It gives you more of a chance if you do happen to have a 71. You’ve got to average a 68 out here. If not, you’ll be struggling to compete.”
His worst score in 18 rounds in Senior events this season is 72; his lowest a closing 62 in the Toshiba Classic. “My game was always based on par golf, US Open-style play,” he observed. “I was never really good at shooting 63s or 64s. You’ve got to do that out here and you’ve got to get out the blocks just to have a chance of that. That’s taken me a few months to get to grips with.
“I’ve been quite consistent this year and, while I’m certainly not going to say the courses are easy because they’re not, they are easier than PGA Tour courses. They are just under 7,000 yards, but it’s a lack of rough that makes them slightly easier. The way I’ve played so far this season has certainly been encouraging heading into these two events.”
Playing in the latter means that Montgomerie is missing the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth for the first time in his career while a clash between the US Senior Open and the Scottish Open means he will also be absent when the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event is held at Royal Aberdeen for the first time in July.
He has also decided against trying to qualify for the Open Championship this year, having discovered through a failed attempt at Gullane last summer that it was asking too much to rush home from America and then try his luck over 36 holes in the one day.
“I had a big think about that [missing Wentworth],” admitted the three-times winner of the Tour’s flagship event. “But I’ve got to decide where my future is and it’s about trying to win Senior majors. I think it’s the first time I’ve missed it in 25 years.
“I’m not trying to qualify for The Open. I’ve got the US Open in Oklahoma the week of the Scottish Open and I don’t get back from that until the Tuesday. That wouldn’t give me much chance to prepare even if I did qualify. Then I’ve got the Senior Open at Porthcawl the week after, so I’ll have a few days at home before going to Wales.”
Does that mean his Open career is over? “I wouldn’t say that,” he replied in a flash. “If I happen to be lucky enough to win the Senior Open, that would get me into The Open at St Andrews next year. Then, in the 2015 Senior Open, the prize will be a spot in The Open at Troon in 2016 so I’ll be taking that one on, I can assure you.”
As for September’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, the man who played in it eight times and also led Europe to victory at Celtic Manor in 2010 now knows what he will be doing that week. “I’m working for Sky Sports,” he confirmed. “It’s quite good with Butch Harmon on the American side and me on the European side as we have a good laugh. I’ll stay at home and might cycle up as getting in and out of the place is going to be a bit like it was at the G8 summit there. You might see me on my bike heading up to Gleneagles.”
Will he be pedalling his way to see an American team including Tiger Woods? “You could see him not qualifying for the first time due to the fact he’s not going to have played much,” said Montgomerie of the world No 1, who is recovering from back surgery and unlikely to play again in time for next month’s US Open at Pinehurst.
“Then it would be up to Tom Watson to pick him and how could you not pick Tiger Woods? If he’s 90 per cent fit you’d want him there surely and it’s a better and bigger event if he is there, so let’s hope he is both fit and playing.”