COLIN Montgomerie desperately wanted to be hounding Bernhard Langer in the final group in today’s third round of the Senior Open Championship.
It was a distinct possibility, too, when he closed a 14-shot gap at one point at Royal Porthcawl to seven with three holes to play on another sun-kissed day in South Wales.
Montgomerie, however, still managed to find a positive about losing out on that spot to Chris Williams on the strength of the Englishman being the first to finish on four-under, the score sharing second place.
“Bernhard will be on the clock tomorrow because he’ll be taking his time, so thank God he’ll be behind me,” quipped the Scot after a second-round 66.
Bidding to add this title to wins in the US Senior PGA and US Senior Open earlier this year, Montgomerie was just starting his second round when Langer was finishing off another polished effort on this fiery course, following an opening 65 with a 66 for a remarkable 11-under-par total and a seven-shot halfway cushion.
“He’s clinical and methodical – the same as the [German] football team,” observed Montgomerie of the leader’s performance this far.
Already 12 behind the German when he set out in the afternoon, Montgomerie dropped shots at the first two holes, three-putting both of them, before reeling off six birdies in the next seven holes – it was almost seven in a row as a putt at the fourth hung on the edge of the hole – to turn in 31.
“I wanted to play with Langer – that was my only goal on the back nine,” he confessed. “He’s not going to come back to us so we need to put pressure on him. It’s a massive mountain to climb, but I’ll be doing my utmost to catch him.”
Despite also carding a 66 – a flawless effort that was capped by an eagle at the last – Tom Watson is nine shots off the pace in joint fifth. “Bernhard is running away with it, but this course has the potential to throw up some real problems,” added the five-times Open champion as he joined Montgomerie in vowing to fight to the death.
A “pulled 4-iron” cost Langer, the 2010 winner, a bogey at the first. With typical German efficiency, though, he bounced back to with three birdies in a row from the fourth before picking up three more thereafter.
“It’s definitely been very good golf,” he admitted in reflecting on his work over the first two days. “To only make two bogeys but, more importantly, have 16 birdies is not easily done in these conditions. You’ve always got to be thinking ahead and it’s the small details that come into effect in conditions like this.”
No-one does “small details” in this game better than Langer, which made his last-hole lapse in this event at Royal Birkdale 12 months ago all the more astonishing.
“That one hurt and hurt for a while,” he confessed of taking a double-bogey 6 from the middle of the fairway at the 72nd hole then losing a play-off to American Mark Wiebe.
“It’s one of those things that I’ll never forget because, put me in that situation a hundred times, and I think I’d win 98 or 99 times. It was a little uncharacteristic but, if you want to win some, you gotta lose some in the process.”
Wirral-born Williams now lives in the Serengeti in South Africa, hence wildlife being one of his interests away from golf. The 55-year-old, whose only win in the Senior ranks came in the Brunei Masters three years ago, lit up his 70 with an eagle-2 at the 11th.
Considering he turned in four-over in the opening round, Ross Drummond has done well to secure a top-15 position at the halfway stage. Coming home in 33 “recovered” that opening effort, which he followed with a level-par 71 yesterday.
“I’m sitting nicely,” said the four-times Scottish PGA champion, who finished third in a European Senior Tour event at Bad Ragaz in Switzerland three weeks ago.
With the halfway axe falling at seven-over, Montgomerie and Drummond were joined in making it to the weekend by Alastair Webster and Andrew Oldcorn, both on 147 after 72 and 78 respectively, as well as Kenny Hutton, who birdied the last for a 78 and 149 to make it right on the mark.
While American Tom Pernice Jnr made it look easy as he catapulted himself up the leaderboard after a best-of-the-week 64, the fiery test brought many others to their knees, the defending champion included.
A year after finishing locked together with Langer after four rounds, Wiebe was 22 shots behind the German following just 36 holes this time as his title defence ended prematurely.
There was an early exit, too, for Sandy Lyle. He started and finished with a double-bogey, had eight bogeys in between and signed for an 82 to comfortably be on his bike on 16-over.