Friday, 19 March 2010
Nineteen European Tour players will converge on the scenic Pebble Beach Golf Links in California, bidding to win the 100th edition of the US Open Championship.

The return to Pebble Beach is eagerly awaited by everyone, but in particular by Europe's No.1, Colin Montgomerie, who came agonisingly close to capturing his first major title there eight years ago.

Montgomerie, by then a Ryder Cup player but with only two European Tour titles to his name compared to his present total of 24, was making his debut in the event which has subsequently become his favourite and most successful major championship.

After a closing round of 70 in fiendishly tricky conditions, no less an authority than Jack Nicklaus jumped the gun by telling Montgomerie: "Congratulations on being our national champion". However the statement was premature as Tom Kite played the round of his life to win his one and only major with Jeff Sluman edging the Scot into third place.

Eight years on, Montgomerie is still awaiting that elusive first major title but he recalled: "My memories of Pebble Beach are very vivid. When you finish and think you have won the US Open you think about it a lot, and I did exactly that.

"I would like to say I think it would have hurt my career if I had won. I don't think I would be in this position now, third in the world, and in the top ten since 1994. I don't think I would have achieved that had I won the US Open. I probably wasn't ready to win a major at that stage and it probably would have hurt me in a total career state. Looking back, it was difficult to accept at the time but looking back on it now, I'm not glad I didn't win but at the same time it hasn't hurt my career not winning."

Montgomerie tees off in the first round in the company of Davis Love III and Greg Norman, while another of Europe's top stars, José Maria Olazábal, launches his bid to add a US Open to his two Masters titles alongside Mark O'Meara and Stewart Cink.

The exhilarating Spaniard finished in the top ten three years running from 1989 to 1991 and has the talent to be a leading contender now that his driving problems have been resolved with the help of his coach, John Jacobs.

The US Open at the world famous Pebble Beach course has a habit of conjuring up a great sense of theatre. In 1972, Nicklaus played one of the greatest one irons in championship history to land the title, while a decade later he was caught and passed by Tom Watson, who chipped in spectacularly at the 71st hole.

Open champion Paul Lawrie has been forced to withdraw from the Championship due to a continuinig groin injury which has affected his playing schedule for the past three weeks.

Lawrie would have been one of six European Tour members making their debuts in the Championship. The others are Angel Cabrera of Argentina, Spain's Sergio Garcia, Bob May of America and 1999 Ryder Cup players Jarmo Sandelin of Spain and Frenchman Jean Van de Velde.

Tragically, the current Champion will not be at Pebble Beach. Payne Stewart, who won his second US Open title at Pinehurst last year, lost his life in a plane crash in October. Nine past champions are in the field - Lee Janzen, Ernie Els - an Honorary Life Member of the European Tour - Hale Irwin, Curtis Strange, Steve Jones, Corey Pavin, Kite, Watson and Nicklaus.

The 60 year old Nicklaus will be playing in his 44th consecutive US Open, dating back to his first one at Inverness, Toledo, in 1957 when he was an amateur. He also holds the record for cuts made - a remarkable total of 35.

Kite set the course record holder with a ten under par 62 shot in 1983 and it was subsequently equalled by David Duvall in 1997. The first prize is $800,000 from a total prize fund of $4.5 million.

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