Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Colin Montgomerie knows the course at Royal Troon

AP , TROON, SCOTLAND

Colin Montgomerie is home again, trying for perhaps the final time to win the major championship he so desperately covets on the course where he learned to play.

Seven years ago he made a mess of it at Royal Troon, where the hopes of his countrymen proved too much for his fragile psyche and he imploded early. On a course he had played hundreds of times, Montgomerie opened with a 76 and was never a factor on the weekend of that British Open.

He returns this week to find things much the same in this sleepy coastal town, where his father served as Royal Troon's club secretary and he spent summers playing golf. But Montgomerie's life -- and expectations -- are both far removed from what they were in his heyday as Europe's best player.

At the age of 41, he's going through a divorce from his wife of 14 years made even more painful by the attention British tabloids pay to it. His game has been so lousy he had to win a qualifying playoff just to get in the tournament, and even the home folks would have to stretch to consider him a favorite.

Time is running out on his career, something Montgomerie is painfully aware of as he contemplates what will likely be his last competitive run at a Royal Troon Open.

"The day will come when all I can do is expect to finish in the top 10 and, well, I won't be here," Montgomerie said. "The reason I'm here is because I think I can still win. I still feel deep down there's an opportunity to be here. And that goes for any tournament I enter."

This tournament, though, means so much more to the ruddy-faced Scot whose major championship failings haven't diminished the love his countrymen will no doubt show him when he tees off Thursday in his 15th British Open.

Montgomerie will begin each day walking to the course from his father's house a half mile away, passing familiar sights on his way to a most familiar place.

He'll stick his tee into the ground he knows so well and hit shots on the same lines he mastered when he played Troon day after day after finally being allowed on the course at the age of 16.

Unlike 1997 when the crushing expectations were too much to bear, this time he's just happy to be here. British bookmakers make him an 80-1 pick to win, and even that may be a bit generous.

"I thought back in June that I wasn't going to be playing at all, so it's a delight to be here in the first place," Montgomerie said. "And I will do my utmost to do as well as I can."

Back in June, Montgomerie still seemed consumed by his much publicized divorce from wife Eimear, who he married at Troon Old Parish Church in a ceremony followed by a reception along the 18th fairway of the town's famed championship course.

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