Colin Montgomerie’s British Open record is somewhat shy of stellar, so shy that he had little choice in a pre-tournament news conference Wednesday but to joke about it.
On second thought, knowing him, he could have been huffy. As a writer in London’s Daily Mail reported, Montgomerie’s scowl can “frighten children and turn milk.” The headline over the story said: “Monty smiling not scowling, it must be a Wednesday.”
Came Thursday at Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club and Montgomerie was still smiling. He went out in 30 and shot a six-under-par 65 to lead by three strokes over Brad Faxon, Chris DiMarco and British Amateur champion Mikko Ilonen, and by six over defending champion Tiger Woods.
It was the first time Montgomerie has broken 70 in the first round of the British Open and, if that doesn’t mean he’s going to win for the first time in this tournament or any other major, it at least gives him a good chance to make the cut. In 11 previous British Opens, he has failed five times to advance to the final two rounds.
“The public’s expectations must be a little bit lower than normal and that is good for me,” he said Wednesday. “It takes the pressure off.”
But the public has a short memory, and, by the 13th hole, much of Woods’ massive gallery had switched to the local hero from three hours north of here in Glasgow, Scotland. He birdied the first two holes, gave a stroke back on No. 5, eagled 6, then birdied 8, 9 and 10 to go six under.
Meantime, Woods, trying to become the first defending champion to win since Tom Watson in 1983, never made a move after a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-three first hole and shot even-par 71.
After avoiding bunkers while winning with a score of 19 under last year at St. Andrews, he stumbled into six of them Thursday. They’re hard to miss. Since the last time the British Open was played here in 1996, when Tom Lehman won at 13 under, 14 bunkers have been added, taking the total to 196.
“This is just proof that technology can’t help you in the wind or on links golf courses,” Jesper Parnevik said. “It doesn’t matter how far you hit it, you won’t escape those traps out there.”
Woods and virtually everyone else also spent more time than they would have liked in what a British golf magazine referred to as the “arse-deep” rough. During one of his practice rounds this week, he laughed at a marshal for scolding two spectators for running through the deep grass. “They’re desperate to keep it high,” he said.
He said he was satisfied with his score Thursday.
“At least I kept myself in [the tournament],” he said. “That is what you need to do. Sometimes you need to gut it out and get around. At least I was able to just hang in there and persevere.”
Most players felt the same. There were 16 players at 69, including David Duval, Jose Maria Olazabal and Parnevik, and 13 more at 70, including Mark O’Meara, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, but no one played brilliantly, other than Montgomerie.
The scores presumably would have been higher if the wind had been as capricious as it was for practice rounds Tuesday and Wednesday. But even though the temperature wasn’t particularly summery on a mostly overcast day--a low of 45, a high of 66--the wind was typical for here, which means nothing more than a light gale.
There were adventures. Jeff Maggert double-eagled the par-five sixth, hitting 294 yards with a driver, then hitting a six-iron shot to the edge of the green that rolled 60 feet and into the cup. Then he bogeyed the next two holes. He finished with a 72.
Fred Couples made an appearance on the leaderboard at three under through 13. Then on the 14th, he hit into the left face of a bunker. Hitting left-handed, he buried the ball deeper. Then he tried to hit out of the back side of the bunker but left the ball in the sand. He tried to hit it out of the front and plugged it back into the face. Then he hit the shot he wished he had hit the first time, leaving it four feet from the hole for a triple-bogey seven. He finished with a 71.
Montgomerie, playing in a threesome with Couples, had his second and final bogey on that hole.
“I think I lost a bit of concentration watching him,” Montgomerie said. “We are good friends. It’s a shame what happened to him.”
In previous British Opens, Montgomerie might have been unnerved by that experience. He has been his own worst enemy, a point Woods alluded to this week when he said Montgomerie is too talented not to have won a major at 38.
At the news conference Wednesday, he said he wasn’t surprised that no local tout shops were touting him.
Asked if he expected to win, Montgomerie said, “Ask me on Saturday night. Hopefully, you won’t have to phone me at home.”
He was more positive Thursday.
“I said to you yesterday that I needed to get off to a decent start and the first three or four holes were important for me, and it worked today,” he said. “You know, to start birdie-birdie was a real bonus. Especially the first putt of an Open is very important and that went in from about 20 feet. That got me going.”
After his bogey on 14, he needed only four putts on the final four holes. The first three were for par, the last for birdie from 40 feet.
The gallery erupted in cheers as if he had won the tournament.
Montgomerie knew better.
Asked if he had dreamed as a child of leading the Open, he said, “I did not dream of any Thursdays at the Open. Very rarely do you dream about Thursdays at the Open. But I have dreamt a couple of times of Sundays.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Colin Montgomerie: 65 -6
Brad Faxon: 68 -3
Chris DiMarco: 68 -3
Mikko Ilonen: 68 -3
16 players tied at: -2
Complete Scores: D7
Leader Scorecards: D7
Tee Times: D7
Hole of the Day: D7
Sweet 17: Ty Tryon, about to enter his junior year of high school, shoots a 65 and shares the first-round lead in the B.C. Open. D7