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At the moment, Montgomerie’s streak of consecutive Opens played is in jeopardy of ending at 21. Montgomerie, 48, needs to finish fifth or better at the European Tour’s Scottish Open this week to earn a berth.
“It’s very difficult, so I’ve got to perform really to the top of my ability and we’ll see what happens, but it’s a challenge and I don’t want to miss The Open, I really don’t,” he said. “It’s the last throw of the dice here. I’d like to not have that record broken, but it’s a challenge.”
Montgomerie reached deep on Thursday to carve out a 5-under 67 in the opening round, two shots behind world No. 2 Lee Westwood.
Montgomerie played his first Open in 1990, roughly 14 months after U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy was born. For as much as Montgomerie relishes playing in the Open Championship, the oldest major has not been so kind to the Scotsman.
In 2001, he was the 36-hole leader and tied for 13th. In 2005, he finished second, five shots back of Tiger Woods at St. Andrews. Writing Montgomerie off, though, would not be wise—this week or at Royal St. George’s if he does qualify. The competitive fire still warms in his belly, and he has been inspired in recent years.
“I don’t feel any pressure to perform, no, but I would like to play in The Open,” he said. “I’m a great believer in if you’re not playing, you can’t win. And on a fast-running course like Royal St. George’s is, that gives me, nowadays, at 48, my best opportunity; the way that Greg Norman performed at Birkdale and the famous occasion where Tom Watson performed at Turnberry.
“So it does give an opportunity for those who don’t have a certain length off the tee more of an opportunity, so I would love to be able to play, yes.”
Over the years, Montgomerie’s sometime crusty demeanor has softened and his wry humor has emerged. While Luke Donald, Westwood and Martin Kaymer hold the World Rankings’ Nos. 1-3 spots, Montgomerie poses no threat to cracking that triumvirate—yet.
“Starting the season at 420, I’m now [at 285], so there you go. It’s dramatic, the improvement,” he said. “Very few people improve in their 40s, and obviously I’m one of them, which is tremendous.”
And the last laugh would not be on Montgomerie should he qualify for his 22nd Open Championship, and especially if he were to win this week or next.
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.