COLIN Montgomerie got off to a promising start as the Scot made his much-anticipated over-50s debut in the opening round of the US Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel in Pittsburgh.
On a course being likened to Merion, venue for the US Open earlier this month, the eight-times European No 1 carded a one-under 69 – only the second time in 19 competitive rounds this season that he’s broken 70.
A double-bogey at the eighth – his 17th – threatened to take the gloss off Montgomerie’s day but he bounced back with a closing birdie.
It left him sitting in the top 20, four shots behind pacesetter John Huston and one ahead of compatriot Sandy Lyle. Montgomerie also beat Bernhard Langer, one of his playing partners, by three shots.
Starting at the tenth, Montgomerie quickly picked up his first birdie in the Senior ranks with a splendid two at the short 11th and followed that with five straight pars before giving the shot back at the 17th, another par-3. He then birdied the second and seventh on his back nine, run up a 6 at his penultimate hole but got back in red figures again with a last-hole birdie.
Lyle, who also started at the tenth, was two-under after five holes but dropped three shots thereafter, including the last.
Montgomerie had been the centre of attention in the build up to the event and was given a warm welcome by Fred Couples, winner of the Senior Open Championship at Turnberry last July.
“I would think this would be a great start for him,” said the American of his fellow Golf Hall of Fame inductee earlier this year. “It’s a perfect course. He drives it like a machine, but I think anyone would tell you that he’s going to be a huge factor for this Tour and he’s going to be great for this Tour.”
In another major being held this week on the other side of the Atlantic, Catriona Matthew was having an up-and-down first round in the US Women’s Open at Sebonack.
On-form Inbee Park set a hot pace before the Scot had started out in Southampton, New York. Taking advantage of some favourable tee positions, world No 1 Park birdied four of her last nine holes to fire a superb five-under-par 67.
“I played very good today,” the 24-year-old Korean told reporters after mixing six birdies with a lone bogey and totaling only 25 putts. “I hit the ball very good, didn’t miss many fairways or greens.”
One of the afternoon starters, Matthew, who lost to Park in a play-off in the LPGA Championship earlier this month, was one-under with three to play. Her card contained five birdies, a double-bogey and two bogeys to that point. Earlier, Carly Booth had marked her debut in a professional tournament in America with a six-over-par 78, the bulk of the damage being done by two double-bogeys in her first six holes.
Janice Moodie was alongside Booth, while, in her first apperance in the paid ranks, Sally Watson was eight-over after 12.
Tournament organisers had moved several of the tees up due to concerns over a poor weather forecast for yesterday and Park took advantage with some
aggressive approach play.
“I was able to attack some pins where the USGA [United States Golf Association] was a little generous on us, a lot of tees were moved up,” she said. “So, instead of hitting like 5-irons, we were hitting 9-irons, and that made the course much easier.”
Having already won this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship and LPGA Championship, Park is oozing self-belief as she seeksto emulate Babe Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) by clinching three major titles in one season.
“I do have a lot of confidence in myself at the moment. The way I’m playing, the way things have been going, the way I’ve been getting the luck,” she added.
“I think I am in the zone. I’ve been playing my best in my career at the moment. I really just want to enjoy the moment.”
World No 3 Suzann Pettersen battled to a 76.