Troon has been a treat; Carnoustie has been calculated. “If there’s one tournament I’d like to win this year, I’d have to say it is this one,” said Colin Montgomerie of the Senior Open Championship, which starts at the Angus venue on Thursday.
With numerous intriguing storylines, it’s another tasty spectacle for Scottish golf fans. Tom Watson, for instance, is going back to where he made his Open Championship debut in 1975. Jean van de Velde, pictured right, is going back to where he suffered his infamous last-hole collapse in the same event in 1999. John Daly, another of the game’s colourful characters, is making his debut in the over-50s major.
Montgomerie was in that position at Royal Birkdale three years ago, when, in a rude awakening, he finished joint-21st. He has since finished second at Royal Porthcawl then third at Sunningdale. “I would love to put the figure 1 in the column at Carnoustie. That would be super,” admitted the 53-year-old, speaking at Royal Troon in his role as a Rolex ambassador.
Watson, of course, claimed the first of five Claret Jug successes on that Open Championship debut just over 40 years ago. “I have vivid memories of that first visit to Carnoustie,” he recalled. “I was excited and wanted to play, but Keith Mackenzie, then secretary of the R&A, told us the course was closed to us, whether we were exempt or not. He was very apologetic and offered to fix us up with a game at Monifieth, so that was my first look at the famous links turf. It was hard as a rock that year and really fiery.
“I hit my first shot on a links course straight down the middle and somehow lost my ball. I dropped another and kept walking – then found my first one 50 yards to the left. I didn’t like it one bit. I managed to put it behind me, even though I didn’t care for this type of golf. I was just fortunate that I was playing well and there was little wind that year. That Open was a steep learning curve for me.”
The same certainly applies to van de Velde, whose arrival at the 18th hole in Thursday’s opening round is sure to attract a crowd. It will be purely perverse, of course, due to it having been his golfing graveyard in the Open Championship. “I don’t get tired of people talking about 1999 and reminding me about what happened,” he insisted. “I know it is part of history. It is part of my life as well as a golfer. I will try and be as ready as I can for Carnoustie.”
Bill Longmuir, who led the Open Championship on two separate occasions in his heyday, is among the hopefuls set to battle it out tomorrow at four qualifying venues – Downfield, Monifieth, Montrose and Panmure – for a total of 37 spots, but another Scot already in the field for the Rolex-backed event is Andrew Oldcorn. The Edinburgh man will be heading to Angus with a spring in his step after ending a five-year drought with victory in Germany last weekend.