Teamwork pays off as Colin Montgomerie starts well at Senior Open

Colin Montgomerie plays an iron from the fairway during the first round of the Senior Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes. Picture: Jan Kruger/GettyColin Montgomerie plays an iron from the fairway during the first round of the Senior Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty
Colin Montgomerie plays an iron from the fairway during the first round of the Senior Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty
Colin Montgomerie is very much his own man. But, when the need arises, he’s prepared to listen. Like here this week. With more than 190 bunkers to try to avoid at Royal Lytham, it’s a two-man job as far as the Scot is concerned in the ?$2 million Senior Open Championship. He may be hitting the shots. But, perhaps more than in any other event they’ve teamed up in over the years, this one is involving a lot of input from his trusty caddie, Alastair McLean.

“Every tee shot is discussed with Alistair,” declared Montgomerie after getting off to a promising start in his bid to claim the over-50s Claret Jug, a two-under-par 68 leaving him a shot off the clubhouse lead, held by England’s Paul Broadhurst and American duo Wes Short jnr and Scott Dunlap, on a weather-hit day. “We discuss at length where we don’t go, and we avoid it,” he added.

Even though it often meant him being left with much longer second shots into the greens at this superb Lancashire venue, their gameplan worked a treat on a morning when a stiff breeze proved tricky. Montgomerie, a three-time senior major winner and desperate to add this title to his CV, was bogey-free. On the one occasion he did stray into a bunker, at the third, he salvaged the situation by finding the green with a 5-iron for his third shot and holing the putt.

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“Getting it in play around here is vital, and I don’t mind hitting longer shots into the greens,” said the 56-year-old, who had carded ten straight pars before making his first birdie of the day at the par-5 11th before picking up another shot at the 15th. “There are 196 bunkers here and they had 58 bunkers at Royal Portrush. For every bunker there, there’s three here and they are in play.”

Not that he’s complaining. Far from it, in fact. “It’s good that we come to courses as good as this where par does mean something. Every hole you par, you tick off and you gain on the field. I’ve always liked that. My strength was the US Opens in the the ’90s because I could tick off a par and knew that I was ahead of the game, and that’s a wee bit like that this week, too.”

In the circumstances, notably the fact he’s 18 years older, this start was just as impressive as the 65 he shot to lead outright after the opening round of the 2001 Open at the same venue. That title bid ultimately ended in disappointment and you sense Montgomerie is a man on a mission this week.

“The putter was iffy today. But, you know, it didn’t really matter. 68 was a great start. I’m swinging the club well enough to allow myself to strategise around this golf course,” he said. “I know my way around here and I’m confident. It’s just a matter of going out there and seeing how many putts you can hole over the next few days. But I look forward to it.”

That sentiment was shared by Darren Clarke, one of the big-name debutants in the field, as he also signed for a 68 before the weather took a turn for the worse. It was a nice way for the 50-year-old to bounce back from the bitter disappointment of missing the cut in last week’s Open Championship in Portrush, where he lives, by a shot after taking a triple-bogey 7 at the last in the second round. “That’s probably as low as I’ve ever been in my career just because it was home in Portrush,” he said.

One of the players affected by two separate suspensions due to thunderstorms in the afternoon, Paul Lawrie just got his round finished before play was halted at 9.25pm. On his debut, the Aberdonian had been two-under with two to play before finishing bogey-bogey. “Just shocking,” he said after signing for a 70. “You can’t be doing that. You’ve been battling your bollocks off all day and just given it away. Absolutely raging doesn’t cover it. I had played nicely for 16 holes but then misjudged a putt at 17, leaving it short, and then hit a poor second at 18. Level-par is not a disaster, but it should have been two-under, really.”

Broadhurst, the winner at Carnoustie in 2016, carded an eagle and four birdies to match earlier efforts from Dunlap and Short jnr, who came home in 32, while two other Americans – Scott 
Parel and Ken Duke – are also sitting on three-under when they join 22 other players in finishing their rounds early on Friday morning.

Sandy Lyle and Andrew 
Crerar had matching 73s, Andrew Oldcorn shot 74 and Gary Orr resumes on five-over with two to play.

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