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Sports Then and Now

Colin Montgomerie’s US Open Woes

Posted on April 13, 2011 by Rod Crowley

Once upon a time, Scottish golfers dominated the US Open Golf Championship, in fact the Saltire was raised twelve times in the first fifteen tournaments between 1895 – 1910. It was raised once again, for the last time in 1925 when Willie McFarlane took the title, however, it most certainly should have been raised twice since in 1997 and in 2006 and could have also been raised in 1994.

Those three years will sit heavy in the mind of Colin Montgomerie, who will go to his grave knowing that he should have won at least twice, but had to settle for the runners up spot in them both and in the other he had to endure the disappointment of having tied for first place with two others, where he failed behind both in the subsequent 18 hole play-off, having to settle for a tie for second.

In those first two defeats, 1994 & 1996 it was Ernie Els of South Africa who triumphed on both occasions and in 2006, it was Australian Geoff Ogilvy who took top prize.

In the 1994 US Open, played at Oakmont, Monty actually finished first, but unluckily for him and the Scots, it was equal with Els and American Loren Roberts, who all finished on five under par. This meant, as this is the case at the US Open, an 18 hole play-off the following day between the three players.

Once again, unluckily for Montgomerie, he could only manage third place in the play-off, leaving his two rivals to fight it out on a sudden death basis which Els won at the second extra hole. It was elation for Els, but abject despair for Europe’s best player at that time, who had finished third at the US Open just two years previously.

In the 1997 US Open at the par 70 Congressional Blue Course, where the 2011 US Open will be played, ‘Monty’ fired in a first round of 65, described as the one of the greatest rounds played in US Open History. That bogey free, six under par round gave him a first round lead, but only by one shot from Americans Steve Stricker and Hal Sutton. Nonetheless the Scot was made a clear favourite to become only the third non-American to win the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1971. One of those winners was of course, Els who had won in 1994 and was desperately looking for his second title. He fired a first round of 71 and was six shots off the pace.

As good as Monty’s round was on day one, his second round score was equally as bad. He shot a round of 76, which to this very day remains inexplicable and it left him four shots off the lead which by this time was held by another American, Tom Lehman, who had fired a 67 followed by a 70, which put him on 3 under, two clear of Stewart Cink and the improving Els, who both shot 67.

Monty put his woes of the second day behind him on day three, establishing himself on the leaderboard with a three under par 67, two shots better than Els, which put them both on 3 under; they had been joined on this score by yet another American challenger, Jeff Maggert . Lehman however still held sway after a solid 68 which put him two shots clear of the field. By the end of the third day these four were the only players under par.

The final round however was all about Els and Monty; they were paired together and slogged out it over the next 16 holes remaining virtually neck and neck all day. Unfortunately on the 17th the Scot could only make bogey, leaving Els with a one stroke advantage going to the 18th. Monty needed a birdie badly or for Els to drop a shot, but neither happened and once again, the European number one had to concede to the ‘Big Easy’ who claimed his second ‘Major’.

Several years of disappointment followed at the tournament, with Monty never got any closer to winning than his tie for 15th in 1999 and the game looked up for him. Not only had he failed to pick up a US Open, he had earned the tag of being the best player not to win a ‘Major’ anywhere.

Then, completely ‘out of the blue’ in 2006, the great Scot decided it was time for a swan song and he chose the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot tom perform it. ‘Monty’ fired the only sub-par round of the day with his 69 giving him a surprise one stroke lead, from a group of players on par, which included Phil Mickelson who was looking for his third consecutive ‘Major’ win.

Monty was still in the picture after round two, his round of 70 put him on even par, just one behind Steve Stricker and one ahead of Australian Geoff Ogilvy; fortunately for Montgomerie there was no sign of Els this time.

By the end of the third round, where he fired a disappointing 5 over 75, he seemed out of it with Mickelson sharing the lead with little known Englishman, Kenneth Ferrie who were three shots clear on two over. Between them sat Ogilvy on three over.
The final round will go down as one of the best ever known in the US Open, with a mix of incredible shots being made and missed equally by all of those in contention. Monty had closed the gap midway through the round and was in contention without looking like the winner until the 17th when he fired in a quite amazing 75 foot putt on the 17th green to tie the lead with Ogilvy. All he needed was a par on the last to win or a bogey to tie. It was now or never for Monty!

However, once again the US Open ‘bogeyman’ came to visit with him on the middle of the 18th fairway, where Monty’s ball had been superbly driven to and was in prime position. Inexplicably he deliberated over what club to use to find the green and in the event, selected the wrong one, and struck his ball way to the right of what had been a straightforward shot. It was a disaster, he ended up getting on to the green in three shots, which he then three putted for a double bogey and the title belonged to the Australian. It was the last chance saloon for Colin Montgomerie, but is should not be forgotten that he also finished runner up in the PGA Championship in 1995 and the Open Championship in 2005 at St Andrews behind Tiger Woods.

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