Friday, 19 March 2010
Colin Montgomerie embarks on another mission to win the major championship he cherishes so much when he tees off in the US Open at Pinehurst this week.

The six-time Volvo Order of Merit winner is one of 22 European Tour players who will be in the field for the final US Open Championship of the century.

And Montgomerie, who has finished third, tied second after a play-off and second on his own in 1997, can’t wait for the opportunity to follow in the pioneering footsteps of Tony Jacklin 29 years ago.

It was at Hazeltine in 1970 that Jacklin added the US Open title to the Open Championship crown he captured at Royal Lytham the previous summer. Since then, Nick Faldo has also come close for Europe, losing to Curtis Strange in a play-off in 1988 and finishing third two years later.

The famous Pinehurst No2 course, designed by the Scot Donald Ross, is the venue for this year’s renewal of rivalries, and Montgomerie, close to his 36th birthday, cannot contain his enthusiasm.

He said: “That US Open - I love that US Open. I’d love to win that one. Considering no one’s done it for damn near 30 years in Europe and we’ve won 11 of the last 20 Masters, it’s incredible how one tournament has failed us and in the other one we’ve reigned supreme.

“It would be nice to do it and I’ll be one of the favourites, but favourites don’t always come through in golf but I must admit I’m going there even more confident than before Congressional two years ago. I’m going there with as much confidence as I can possibly have.”

Only the brilliance of Ernie Els deprived Montgomerie of the title that year – the second time the easy-going South African had plucked the great prize from the Scot’s grasp.

However Montgomerie, buoyed by two victories from his last four starts in Europe, is one of the European players most feared by the American and international players in the field.

Defending champion is Lee Janzen, who has twice done to Payne Stewart what Els did to Montgomerie. Last year at the Olympic Club he came from off the pace to pip his colourful compatriot – but it is Montgomerie to whom he is looking for a big challenge this time around.

“I’ve played Pinehurst in the Tour Championship and went there the day after the Masters for a media event. My feeling is that it is quite generous off the tee and you need to be no more than an adequate driver.

“But you have to be a superb iron player to get the ball into a position on the greens to make birdies and, more appropriately, to two putt for par.

“That is where Monty comes in. He controls his iron play brilliantly and has especially good distance control. That will be vital at Pinehurst. They don’t have to grow the rough to make it a tough challenge – it is already!

“The Europeans might not have a good record in the US Open but I respect many of their players. Lee Westwood is a tremendous talent and everybody knows what Jose Maria Olazabal is capable of.”

Montgomerie sets off on Thursday at 7.50am local time in the company of Jeff Sluman and Vijay Singh while Olazabal is 10 minutes earlier along with Tom Lehman and Nick Price.

Faldo, still seeking a return to form, tees off at 9am with Fred Couples and Brian Watts, the man who lost out to Mark O’Meara in the play-off for last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale.

Overall, the European challenge appears stronger than ever, and Ireland’s Darren Clarke is in contented mood after landing the Compass Group English Open on his last start before the major.

Undoubtedly the big draw on the opening day will be the three-ball involving Tiger Woods, Westwood and former champion Corey Pavin.

Whereas Woods has won the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open, TPC of Europe and the Memorial Tournament recently, Westwood has hit a rough patch and missed the cut in both.

However the European Golfer of the Year in 1998 can take solace from Clarke’s return to form after a mini-slump and a similar revival can be expected from a golfer with immense talent.

Four European Tour players – Stephen Allan, Robert Allenby, Per-Ulrik Johansson and Gabriel Hjertstedt – all qualified to join 18 other exempt players in the field.

Sweden will be represented by Johansson, Patrik Sjoland, Mathias Gronberg and Jesper Parnevik, who has already won on the US Tour this season.

Germany’s Sven Struver makes his debut in the second major of the season while Phil Price of Wales is also playing for the first time. It will be a second visit for Peter Baker and – fitness permitting – Andrew Coltart, who withdrew after one round of the German Open with a painful rib.

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