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Colin Montgomerie reflects upon opportunities lost and the heartache of leaving his clubs at home for yet another year

THE smile was Tuesday wide.

Colin Montgomerie reflected on Opens past and present at yesterday's press conference. Picture: PA
Colin Montgomerie reflected on Opens past and present at yesterday's press conference. Picture: PA

Colin Montgomerie in blazer, slacks and loafers was as charming as Leslie Phillips at a hen night when he approached the press in the lee of the Lancashire wind yesterday.

The Scot was almost unconsciously adhering to an Open tradition that he created over decades of achievement. Tuesday Monty was a child of hope, even of wondrous expectation. Weekend Monty, occasionally nurtured on disappointment and sometimes weaned on missed cuts, could be a child that made Damian from the Omen appear only ever so slightly naughty.

The mood swings could obscure the greatness of Monty, the golfer. His best Open finish was coming in second to Tiger Woods at St Andrews in 2005 and the 49-year-old can reflect on chances to win another handful of majors that slipped between his fingers.

Tuesday Monty was yesterday bright, informative and capable of evoking a gentle sympathy. The elite of golf walked through the gates of Royal Lytham yesterday with its focus on the practice day ahead or, perhaps, the prospect of holding the Claret Jug on Sunday.

Monty had only thoughts for a Thursday in 2001 when God was in His heaven and a 65 was on the scorecard. "As I was coming in here today, I was thinking about the birdie I made on the last to lead by three shots – that's a big lead in an Open after one day. Even then you start to think 'is this it?' Everyone says you need to take it one shot at a time, but that's impossible – you automatically get ahead of yourself," said Montgomerie. He finished tied for 13th.

There is no disgrace in that, but there is painful experience. It is no consolation for the Scot that this allows him to speak with considerable authority on the Open and, ironically, on what it takes to win the greatest golf championship in the world.

He was typically forthright in his predictions. Justin Rose, Paul Lawrie and Lee Westwood are the Brits who could win the tournament. Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk are the most likely of our American cousins. Luke Donald, the world No.1? Well, not so much, really.

The most obvious impression, though, was of a man bereft of purpose. "It's bloody awful being here without my clubs, it's killing me. I tried to qualify and just missed by one and this hurts, especially on this course that I feel gives me the best opportunity of doing well," he said. "This hurts," he added by way of unnecessary emphasis. "The clubs are back home in Dunning and that feels strange."

Montgomerie also alluded to a different golf world than the one that existed when he was a contender for everything. This new landscape poses problems for those who expected that maturity, even longevity, would provide a major. As Padraig Harrington remarked later in the day, this young generation of golfers is ready to win and will not back off.

This is not the best of news for Westwood, who has just three majors to compete in before he turns 40 next year. "I was on the plane with Lee and I said to him: 'Just keep knocking on the door because it's ajar for you and one day it will open – and when it does, it will mean even more to you'."

Montgomerie advised his one-time Ryder Cup partner to have patience, belief and hope. But there was an unintended ominous note for the Englishman when he said: "There is only one person I can think of who has improved in his 40s and that's Vijay Singh. Mostly you do not improve in your 40s, the best you can do is sustain. The trouble is that, meanwhile, the 25-year-olds are improving and they are pretty damned good already."

Westwood, he said, might be thinking: "Wow, this is my last Open in my thirties, this is getting harder". But, he added: "I reckon if he knocks on the door three more times it will open once – and he will be in contention in at least three more, so I think he's going to win one."

Lawrie, of course, has already won his major: Carnoustie in 1999. "This is my favourite form of golf, links golf, with the weather and the need to be a bit more strategic to avoid the bunkers," said the 43-year-old Scot, who admitted his putting had to improve before giving him an opportunity to contend on Sunday. "I feel it is my best chance to do well, but my record is pretty poor – apart from winning it," said Lawrie, whose best finish, other than first, was 22nd at Muirfield in 1992.

Another Caledonian hopeful was brightly optimistic in the Lancashire rain. "I'm up for the challenge," said Richie Ramsay. The Scot is bolstered by the experience of winning an amateur major, the US Amateur in 2007, and by a chat with John McLaren, caddie to Luke Donald, who gave him unspecified tips on how to improve his mentality on entering his third Open, with the other two ending on the Friday night.

"I have been struggling with a few things over the last few weeks, but I think I've learned from my mistakes," said the Aberdonian. "I'm just going to downplay everything this week. For me, this is just a medal, four days. If someone told me when I was 15 or 16 I would play four days at the Open I would have loved that. So that's the attitude I am going to take into this week."

Ramsay would not allow any references to the toughness of the course to divert him from his purpose. "It's good. It's set up the way it should be," he said. "Everyone's complaining about the rough, but that's the way Royal Aberdeen and the classic links courses are set up. There's 30,000 people out there watching – who would swap places with us any day of the week."

And that includes one 49-year-old with clubs in Dunning and a temper in check.

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