If Colin Montgomerie needed a spark as he pursued Gene Sauers on a 100-degree day in the final round of the 35th U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National, he received it on the 12th hole.
Montgomerie, who held the solo lead through the first two rounds, only to stumble with a third-round 74, was the only player within striking distance of Sauers as the holes began to dwindle on a steamy Oklahoma Sunday. Then along came the bagpiper.
I’ll tell you what, never mind the bagpipes – he was dressed in a kilt, which is heavy material, marveled Montgomerie, a native of Glasgow. And he played ‘Flower of Scotland’ as we were coming up the hole. It was amazing to have that. I’m 5,000 miles from my home and to have him playing was a thrill.
For most of a 10-hole stretch, from the par-4 fifth through the par-4 15th, the dogged Montgomerie trailed Sauers by one stroke. His pursuit was finally rewarded when Sauers missed a 6-foot par putt on No. 16, dropping him to 5 under and into a share of the lead with Monty. When Sauers narrowly missed a birdie effort on the 72nd hole, the second three-hole aggregate playoff in Senior Open history was assured.
Sauers and Montgomerie each bogeyed the first playoff hole, No. 16, after they found the fairway bunker. Sauers bogeyed the par-3 17th after again being bunkered off the tee, and Montgomerie made a comfortable two-putt par. After both players missed the 18th green, Sauers seemed poised to extend the playoff, with a 4-footer left for par while Monty was 16 feet away. However, Monty ran in the putt for his first USGA championship after several hard-luck finishes.
I’ve been close in these USGA championships a few times, said Montgomerie, 51. I’ve lost in a playoff and been one shot behind a couple of times and I had to wait till 50 to finally win one. To follow the PGA Senior victory a month ago with the U.S. Senior Open is fantastic. I’m really on top of the world right now.
Montgomerie had a rough time on Saturday, when he hit only six greens and fell four strokes behind Sauers, and one behind Bernhard Langer and Scott Dunlap. But he served notice early on Sunday that he was back in the game.
The 5-iron I hit at the second hole from 195 yards, I hit it to 8 feet and holed it, said Montgomerie. That was important, for the scoreboard to change so that the three guys ahead of me understood that OK, Monty means business as well.
While Montgomerie was climbing closer, Dunlap (41 on the first nine) and Langer (41 on the inward nine) were slipping away, both eventually ending with scores of 77, tied for ninth. Montgomerie and Sauers both birdied the par-5 seventh to move to 5 and 6 under, respectively, and they were still in that position nine holes later, when Sauers drove into the fairway bunker on No. 16 for the first of what would be two times on the day.
I just underestimated the wind going left to right too much there, said Sauers. Maybe I just didn’t put a good swing on it. I did the same thing in the playoff. I had a fairly good chip, and I missed the putt low. That probably was the turning point right there.
Sauers hit a brilliant approach on the 72nd hole, but his 8-foot birdie putt barely missed – a hair’s breadth short of pace or else he would have won, said Monty – to set up the playoff and Montgomerie’s par-saving winner on the same green, three holes later.
From his birdie on No. 7 on Sunday, Montgomerie played the remaining 14 holes – including the playoff – in 1 over par. He thought there were two keys to eventually drawing even with Sauers.
Really, 74 was a disappointing score [on Saturday], but I played particularly badly and it could have gone to 76 or 77 very easily, he said. Today, I knew how difficult the course would play and I was really very patient. You saw me two-putt a lot of holes. I didn’t want to rush it by or do something silly.
Montgomerie has now won two majors since turning 50, after narrowly missing out numerous times on the regular tour.
You know, I waited 22 years to win over in America, said Montgomerie. My first major was the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 1992. I think I’ve matured on the golf course. I’m more patient than I was. I think I felt that in majors when I was contending that I had to play perfect golf, that I had to go out and score 64 – and you don't. Pars are usually good enough, especially in USGA events.
Montgomerie could empathize with Sauers’ tough finish.
To start with the lead – I’ve had it myself, and it’s not easy, said Montgomerie. It’s tough, but all credit to him for persevering through that illness.
Montgomerie knows something about perseverance, and about overcoming adversity, some of it brought on by his difficult relationship with golf fans in U.S.
Again, I’ve matured – I’ve realized that you need the fans on your side, he said. There’s no point in fighting against a few thousand of them out there. This week was a delight; the Oklahoma fans were superb.
Particularly one fan in a traditional tartan kilt.
Ron Driscoll is the editorial manager for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.