Montgomerie out of the Open

THE contrast was as stark as it was inevitable. As Luke Donald was celebrating his third victory of the year - and further justifying his world No 1 standing - so Colin Montgomerie was coming to terms with missing his first Open Championship in 22 years.

Donald’s glory in the Scottish Open was a shining victory at the end of a tournament ravaged by downpours so strong they led to landslides on the three-year-old layout. The event was controversially shortened to 54 holes to ensure the travel plans were not disrupted for those playing at Royal St George’s this week. But nobody could doubt the merits of the winner.

Donald made the journey to the Castle Stuart links in the Highlands knowing that Lee Westwood could rob him of the honour of becoming the first Britain in 18 years to take the No 1 ranking into his home Open.

Instead, the 33-year-old added daylight to the gap at the top of the standings and established himself as many people’s favourite to lift the claret jug on Sunday. Rory McIlroy or no Rory McIlroy.

His final-round 63 was peerlessly constructed, giving him a 19-under total, which was enough to beat Fredrik Andersson-Hed by four strokes; despite the Swede shooting a 62. What made Donald’s nine-under magnificence all the more impressive was that he was up at 4.30am to travel to the course to finish the nine holes left of his second round. And that came after getting up at 4.30am in preparation to do the same on Saturday. In the event the course five miles from Inverness was considered too wet to allow any play, but the players were kept waiting there until 7.30pm in the evening. Never has a truncated tournament felt like such a marathon.

“I am high in confidence going into the Open,” said Donald, making his first appearance at the Scottish Open in four years. “It was a long week and dragged on because of the weather. We had as much rain this week as they usually get in five months up here so it was good to win it and is good preparation for the Open.”

The trend-followers will doubt that. If Donald was to prevail this week he will make history as no player has ever won the Scottish Open and gone on to win the Open. “I am not superstitious in any shape or form,” said Donald.

Neither should he be. Donald has won three of the highest profile tournaments, outside of the majors, so far this season - the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, the BMW PGA Championship and now the Scottish Open with its (pounds sterling)500,000 bonanza. This was his 16th top 10 in his last 18 tournaments, which is an incredible run of consistency.

As he aims for his first major title, Westwood will be content enough with his 12-under finish after a final round 68, as will Padraig Harrington on the same mark. But other than the winner it is fair to comment that most eyes were concentrated on the performance of Montgomerie. The former Ryder Cup captain needed to finish at least in the top five to grab the one berth for Royal St George’s. Somewhat ironically, that was claimed by another Scot in Scott Jamieson. A 10-foot putt on the final green took Jamieson into joint third and he claimed the spot by virtue of having a higher world ranking than Chile’s Mark Tullo, Italy’s Lorenzo Gagli and Austria’s Martin Wiegele.

It had looked so promising for Montgomerie when he eagled the second and then birdied the sixth to claim a share of the lead at 11-under. But a double-bogey five on the short 11th - after a fluffed a chip - saw his challenge die. After successive bogeys from the 13th, Montgomerie responded by making three straight birdies, but a final-round 70 wasn’t enough. So for the first time since Royal Birkdale, 1989, the Open’s entry sheet will not feature the name Montgomerie. “It was going well and then I sort of ran out of puff,” said Montgomerie, whose 10-under finish must still be considered respectable for a 48-year-old ranked down in 285th. “I’ll be driving home and it will sink in. It was always too soon, too short. So there you go. A week off next week. I’ll start again and I’m a lot more hopeful than I was three weeks ago. These events have been much better.”

Montgomerie had been rightly proud of making it into every Open for the past two decades, even coming through a qualifying event twice. “When you haven’t won it you’ve always got to find a way in and I did it for 21 years,” he said. “Most careers don’t last that long.”

He was far more philosophical than when told of the decision to shorten the Scottish Open on Saturday: “The fact that the players are competing for a (pounds sterling)500,000 first prize shows how big this event is. And it should be played out over 72 holes - that would still allow those competing in The Open Championship to get down to it on Monday afternoon or Monday night.

“Obviously, the Tour has been in touch with the sponsors Barclays and they’ve Ok’d reducing the event to 54 holes. But you would think if theBellSouth Classic can go over into the Monday of the Masters week, then the Scottish Open can do it. There is no doubt this event should be 72 holes.”

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