Montgomerie’s pride at being senior ambassador

Colin Montgomerie watches his tee shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla. Picture: Getty
Colin Montgomerie watches his tee shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla. Picture: Getty
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HE HAD just holed a “tramliner” at the last to break par, yet overlooked that when asked to pick out his highlight of the day.

“Getting here and hearing me being announced on the tee as the US PGA Seniors champion,” replied Colin Montgomerie, adding that he reckoned a responsibility rested on his shoulders this week.

“I feel that I am representing the Champions Tour so have some sort of duty to perform and, though there is a long way to go, to start with a 70 is okay,” added the two-times Senior major winner this season.

He carded three birdies, including the one at the ninth – his final hole. “Any time you birdie the last is always a good way to end the round,” he said. “And it was a tramliner, too. It was good as I hit every green and fairway on my front nine.”

It was a promising start for Montgomerie in his first regular major for four years, especially as a combination of the length of the Louisville course and some of the pin positions made it a more difficult test than he has become used to on the Champions Tour.

“The golf course is much, much longer since back then,” said the 51-year-old in recalling having played here in the same event in 2000. “I have gained about 4 per cent and the golf course is taking 20 per cent, so I’m hitting longer shots into the greens.

“Also today the pin placements were very tight and compared to the Champions Tour, where I have played for a year-and-a-bit now, the pins are not located in the corners like they are here.”

One of Montgomerie’s bogeys came at the 11th, which used to be a par-5 but now plays as a 500-yard par-4. “That’s too long for me,” he admitted. “I had 235 yards to the pin and couldn’t get there with a 3-wood.”

Montgomerie’s effort was matched by Stephen Gallacher, who hit his approach to around two feet at the first then picked up another short at the fourth. The Ryder Cup contender was still two-under with four to play before dropping a shot at the 15th.

“I played well today and hit a lot of nice putts that didn’t quite go in so it could have been even better, which is encouraging,” said the 39-year-old. “I hit it just in the first cut about three times and it just causes you enough trouble to stop you being able to go at flags. It was good, though.”

Marc Warren, who finished 12th in this event last year, beat his opening effort on that occasion by three shots as he signed for a 71.

“My ball striking was really good, especially off the tee,” said the 33-year-old after a four-birdie effort.

“I wasn’t really in any trouble but I just didn’t hole enough putts to beat par. I am very comfortable on the course and but for a couple of slightly loose shots I could have been a bit better off. I suppose it is a sign of where I am with the game that I am not delighted with the score.

“I said after the practice rounds that there was a score out there if you played well and the ball striking was there today but I just didn’t quite take the chances when I had them.”

Russell Knox, out in one of the first groups, bemoaned “sloppy mistakes” as he signed for 74. Playing in only his second major, the 29-year-old started with a bogey, then failed to make a birdie at the last after hitting a 4-iron approach to the back fringe.

“I hit two of my best shots of the day at the last and it was ridiculous that I didn’t make birdie there,” declared Knox.

“I didn’t play as well as I can and made sloppy mistakes all day.

“I butchered the easy holes, a perfect case in point being the 13th. I hit a perfect hybrid to leave myself 95 yards to the pin but hit a wedge into the water, having already dropped a shot at the previous hole.

“I just didn’t settle down and also found some of the pins ridiculously tough. They obviously didn’t want to see someone come out of the gates and go super low.”