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Colin Montgomerie of Scotland (Wong Maye-E/The Associated Press)
Colin Montgomerie of Scotland (Wong Maye-E/The Associated Press)

Rubenstein: Montgomerie charts a new course Add to ...

Colin Montgomerie hasn’t won a major championship nor has he won a PGA Tour medal-play event. (He won the 1997 Andersen Consulting Match-Play Championship, now the WGC-Accenture Match-Play Championship). But Montgomerie, who turned 50 on June 24th and is playing his first Champions Tour event, must be considered one of the best golfers of his generation. He won eight Order of Merit titles on the European Tour between 1993 and 2005, and has won 40 pro tournaments overall. He belongs in the World Golf Hall of Fame, which is where he was installed earlier this year.

Montgomerie will begin his Champions Tour career this week in the Constellation Senior Players Championship at the Fox Chapel Golf Club in Pittsburgh. That’s a major on the Champions Tour. Maybe Montgomerie can make his first tournament as a senior golfer a major championship victory–at least one on the Champions Tour.

It’s no given, though, that he’ll even play that well. It’s hardly automatic that a newly minted 50-year-old tears up the Champions Tour. Montgomerie said the other day that he has “a new hunger for the game,” by which he meant he looks forward to the competition against golfers more his own age. He’ll continue to play the odd event against the “flat-bellied” golfers, as Lee Trevino has called the younger set–but rarely. Montgomerie will try next week to qualify for July’s Open Championship at the Muirfield Golf Club in Gullane, Scotland.

Montgomerie has been one of the more interesting players for years. It’s impossible to know why a player of his immense talents never did win on the PGA Tour, or win a major. He just didn’t. He did get into a playoff for the 1994 U.S. Open against Ernie Els and Loren Roberts. Els won. Montgomerie also finished second in the 1997 and 2006 U.S. Opens, and the 1995 PGA and Open Championships.

“You know, I had a great career,” Montgomerie said, “a great normal career if you like, and I would get to number two in the world, now being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a great honor, but of course there’s always an omission, isn’t there, when you talk about me, there’s a lack of a major championship.”

Maybe that lack only makes Montgomerie that much more of an intriguing player. He too has obviously wondered if he lacked the ingredients–whatever they are–to win a major. At the same time, he’s been fascinating to watch and listen to in interviews. He can be petulant, but he’s also direct and honest.

I remember watching him in the 1997 U.S. Open at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD, site of this week’s AT&T National on the PGA Tour. Montgomerie was over the ball on a tee shot. He stood there for what was obviously too long a time–he’s a quick player normally. What was going on?

Montgomerie looked up. A helicopter was hovering above. Montgomerie was distracted. He looked at an official as if to ask if he could arrange to have the helicopter moved. That wasn’t in the official’s power. Montgomerie glowered. He set up over the ball again, took his club back and hit his usual high fade. It was a perfect tee shot.

I also remember the time I covered the 2000 WGC-Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship at the La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. I was in the interview room when Montgomerie sat down. There was a lot of discussion about the world rankings at the time. Many players weren’t clear on how the rankings worked–they still aren’t, for that matter. Who is?

I thought I’d ask Montgomerie about the rankings. Here’s our exchange. It remains one of my favourite pressroom experiences. We went back and forth as the pressroom went quiet. I felt I was in a boxing match, trading punches. I’ll leave the transcript stand as the conclusion to this piece, except for saying I look forward to seeing how Montgomerie will fare this week in his debut on the Champions Tour, and beyond, as he continues to compete there.

Q. Colin, how well do you understand the world ranking system? Can you explain it to somebody in less than ten minutes?

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: It’s actually – I don’t know – what are you trying to say?

Q. A lot of players –?

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: What are you trying to get me to say?

Q. I’m not trying to get you to say anything.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: You are.

Q. I’m not. If you were sitting down, for example, with your wife and trying to explain to her the system, could you explain it?

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: She knows the system (laughter) as well as I do.

Q. She knows it as well as you do, but how well is that? I want to know how well you understand the system.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: I know the system very well.

Q. Can you explain it to us?

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Why, you don’t?

Q. I don’t understand it completely, no. That’s why I want a genius like you to explain it.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Why don’t you understand it?

Q. It’s confusing.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: You’re a golf journalist, right?

Q. Right.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Sorry, I don’t know you. But you should know the system, then. What’s the problem?

Q. Well, I’m asking you –?

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Average points per tournament, and Tiger Woods has got 20 of them, per tournament, and I’ve got 10. I didn’t do as well as he did.

Q. How many points would you get this week if you win?

COLIN MONTGOMERIE: I don’t know. I’m looking for Wednesday, hole-by-hole, Wednesday, I’m not looking beyond that. And I know I don’t get better off by losing the first round, I assure you. So I understand the system quite well. And it goes in the calendar years, and we’ll see. You win and you lose points according to the calendar year and not the tournament. And I think unless something comes up, I believe in the States they’re trying to say that the official world rankings isn’t quite right, but at the same time it’s the best we’ve got. It’s a very, very difficult way of trying to judge one’s form, having five or six different Tours and people playing against each other in different parts of the globe and what have you. We can’t use monetary terms, so we use a point system. And as I say, if no one comes up with a better system, which I don’t think the other one is, this is the best we’ve got.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at lornerubenstein@me.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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