Poor Monty. With any luck, that sentiment won't be Colin
Montgomerie's destiny--to be forever known as Poor Monty, the
best player to have never won a major championship.
Poor Monty. He has come so achy-breaky close so many times. With
any luck he would already have won a major, maybe four. Last
week he just missed winning the U.S. Open for the third time,
leaving a trail of blood, sweat and tears across the rolling
hills and ankle-sniping rough of Congressional Country Club, in
Bethesda, Md. The burly Scot has been the leading money winner
on the European tour for four straight years but still hasn't
won a tournament in the States. Stuff happens to Poor Monty,
like the bizarre incident on the 16th tee last Friday. Monty was
under the weather, suffering from a bit of the flu, and jittery
about his failing game. All day he had been chirping at
photographers, spectators and anyone else who dared to move,
speak or exhale, and when a fan shouted You da man! after Phil
Mickelson's drive, Monty wheeled on the offender. Monty's round
cheeks were red, and his bushy eyebrows looked like two
caterpillars about to race down his nose. "Cut that out!" he
"I'm sorry," answered the startled fan.
"No, you're not," Monty said.
June 22, 1997
"Yes, I am," the fan said.
"No, you're not. You're not sorry at all," Monty scolded.
The spectator, now irritated, finally said, "You're right. I'm
By Sunday, though, the Sympathy Meter was wavering in the red
zone for Montgomerie. He had played well enough to win the 97th
Open. Usually, rounds of 65, 67 and 69 on a tough course like
Congressional are good enough. They weren't this time for two
reasons: Monty's uncharacteristic 76 on Friday; and Ernie Els,
the soft-spoken South African who finished 67-69-69, making
remarkably few mistakes, possibly because he has no discernible
Like Tom Lehman, who has led the Open after 54 holes for three
straight years but still hasn't won it, Monty always appears to
be poised to win. When he came off the course at Pebble Beach in
'92, Jack Nicklaus shook his hand and congratulated him on
winning his first Open. It was all Monty could do to keep from
going into a Heisman Trophy pose. Nobody figured that Tom Kite,
playing later in the day, would be able to surf the wild winds
and win. In 1994 Monty's closing rush in the Open at Oakmont at
first seemed too little, too late. Then Els forgot to check the
scoreboard at the 72nd hole and had to scramble for a bogey,
which led to a Monday playoff between Els, Monty and Loren
Roberts. Heavier back then, and wearing dark clothes because it
was his only clean outfit, Monty melted in the heat and Els won.
In the '95 PGA, Monty birdied the last three holes at
Riviera--no mean feat--to get into another playoff, this time
with Steve Elkington, who promptly ran in a long putt to win on
the first extra hole.
Last week felt as if it might be Monty's even before the
championship began, or at least he thought so. The man is not
shy. "I think it goes without saying that all U.S. Open courses
suit me," he said on Tuesday. "I drive the ball straight. I love
this form of golf, where you have fairways 26 to 34 yards wide
and heavy rough." As for pretournament favorite Tiger Woods, no
problem. "Tiger was very comfortable playing Augusta," Monty
said. "Here, his greatest asset, length, is taken out of the
equation, which gives us mere mortals more of an opportunity to
compete. The playing field is more level here than at Augusta. I
believe he's 5 to 1 to win and 5 to 1 to miss the cut, although
I'd rather have 5 to 1 on him winning."
Montgomerie was wrong about Woods but right about himself. His
opening 65 was superb--it was the low round of the
championship--and could have easily been much lower. Monty
missed birdie putts of eight, six and four feet on the first
three holes. He also failed on an eight-footer at the 8th. In
all, he missed only one fairway and two greens. "It's nice to
have five under in the bank, because I'm sure I'll need them all
as the week progresses," he said. "This is possibly the best
round I've ever put together in a major." By the end of the next
day Monty had withdrawn all five shots, plus interest.
A rain delay on Friday seemed to embolden an already
enthusiastic crowd. "They had unnecessary drinks," said Monty,
who felt faint at times and was frustrated by his inability to
put his drives in the fairways. He let the fans get to him. On
the 9th green some members of the gallery reacted a little too
gleefully when Monty missed a putt, so before tapping in, he
stood like a statue and gave them his A-plus stare. Then, as he
walked off the green, he barked at the fans, "Save it for the
Ryder Cup, O.K.?"
A few holes later Monty asked his wife, Eimear, who was in his
gallery, to find a First Aid station and fetch him some aspirin.
Then came the incident at the 16th tee. After confronting the
fan who had cheered for Mickelson, Monty stepped up to his ball,
and as soon as he had hit it, someone else in the crowd yelled
at it, "Get in the s---!" Translation: Go into the rough. Said
Mickelson, "Throughout the round there were comments made that
you'd expect only at the Ryder Cup. They were uncalled for."
The fun didn't end there. At the 18th green a fat black snake
made a slither-through, providing an additional unwanted
distraction and capping a maddening day. Later, though,
Montgomerie said the bizarre round actually helped keep him in
contention--he was only four shots behind Lehman, the
leader--because just as the 65 could have been better, the 76
could have been a lot worse. Monty hit only five fairways, eight
fewer than the day before.
His slightly off-kilter behavior during the round seemed to
reinforce his reputation as a petulant rich kid whose daddy is
the dictator who runs Royal Troon, site of next month's British
Open. "Every hole, it seemed, he was moving photographers and
people," said Tour veteran Mike Hulbert. "The guys on top need
to put their blinders on and their ear plugs in. Like in
baseball, if you're the best relief pitcher and you give up a
home run in the bottom of the ninth, they're going to yell at
you the next time out, and it ain't going to be pretty. The Open
goes to the guy who handles the adversity the best."
Monty handled it commendably, rallying to a 67 during the
rain-delayed third round to move to within three of Lehman. When
Montgomerie birdied the first hole of the final round, he was
two back and in the thick of a four-man race, along with Els and
Jeff Maggert. He took a bogey at the brutal 6th, the par-5
converted into a 475-yard par-4, but so did the other leaders.
Then he birdied the 7th and 9th holes and was back on center
stage. "That must've made good viewing if you weren't involved
in it," he said afterward. "The trouble was, I was involved in
it, so it didn't make good viewing at all."
Els won because he played the last eight holes in even par and
got his 4 at the 480-yard 17th, something the other three
couldn't do. Montgomerie pushed his approach there and found the
thick rough just off the right fringe. Now the gallery was
buzzing. Monty walked back and forth across the green, looking
imploringly first at one section of the huge crowd surrounding
the 17th and 18th greens, then at another. Finally he held up
his hands: Quiet, puh-leeze! He may as well have been Brett
Favre asking Da Bears' fans to hold it down. After a long wait
Monty hit the crucial chip and left his ball five feet short of
the hole. Then, after another wait, this time for the players on
the 18th to hole out, he missed the par putt. "I didn't
understand the reason for the commotion," he said. "In glorious
hindsight, I might've hit the putt sooner, but I didn't want to
rush the most important putt I've ever hit." The bogey meant
that Montgomerie needed either a birdie at the 18th or a mistake
by Els. Neither happened. "I knew if I beat Colin, I'd have a
good chance of winning," said Els.
Later, Montgomerie answered all the tough questions, even
throwing in a touch of good humor when he thanked a reporter for
reminding him that he had bogeyed the 17th all four days. "To
finish second again is obviously disappointing," he admitted.
"It's getting me down now, this major business." Each close
call, he allowed, will probably make winning one that much harder.
Then he tried to put a better face on things. "If I knock on the
door enough, it will open one day," he said. "I just have to be
Montgomerie, who turns 34 on June 23, has time. Maybe he'll win
at Troon, in front of his father. Maybe he'll win next year. Or
maybe he'll never win one. That would be a shame.
He's not likely to forget the close call at Congressional. The
sun was low in the sky, the light golden and the shadows longer
than one of the club's par-4s when Montgomerie left the scoring
tent, where he had turned in his card to make another heartbreak
official. He put his hands over his eyes, wiping away tears,
then put an arm around his wife's shoulders and walked away,
head down, to the clubhouse.