Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Colin Montgomerie  (Getty Images)
Colin Montgomerie (Getty Images)
Colin Montgomerie returns to action this week insisting he is not there simply to make up the numbers.

The Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles represents Montgomerie’s first tournament for more than six weeks, and the only current official Scottish event on The European Tour he has yet to win.

As Championship Chairman, and on his home soil, Montgomerie would be a hugely popular winner - albeit the oldest in the history of this event - and he starts it with his spirits buoyed by his most recent performance, at the Barclays Scottish Open last month.

While he admitted “it has been difficult for me, no question” during what has been the longest break of his career, he stressed: “I look forward to contending, and not just competing.

“I’ve been practising quite hard. My putting is a lot, lot better than it was. That’s why I got to 11 under at Castle Stuart just after 38 holes. If I can putt well and keep the ball in play, I have a chance.”

Montgomerie, who finished fourth in 2003 and 2006, concurs with many of his fellow players in welcoming the alterations at Gleneagles.

“The golf course has never looked better,” he said. “The changes have been well received, especially the seventh. I think we have got that right now, the seventh hole.

“The 12th and the 14th have more definition than they have ever had before, so that’s great. And the greens are firmer - we have been asking for (that). The feedback from the players has been very good, very positive.”

Paul Lawrie, another Scot who is sure to be warmly received this week, has also favoured a rather unorthodox approach to his preparation.

He has recently completed walking the 97-mile West Highland Way with his wife and friends - for the second time in as many years.

“We enjoyed it so much (last year) that this year we thought we would walk it again, but just for holiday,” said Lawrie.

“Marian, my wife, enjoys walking, so it’s something that we can do together, and there’s three couples that go and we have a good laugh and we have a good time.

“We are going to do the Bay Highway next year and we are going to raise money for the (Paul Lawrie) Foundation.”

If Lawrie can draw on memories of his third-place finish at Gleneagles in 2009, Edoardo Molinari’s performance to win last year means he begins the defence of the title reminiscing about “the most special week of my golf career”.

Molinari finished with three birdies to pip Brett Rumford to the title 12 months ago, a performance which helped earn him a wildcard pick for Montgomerie’s European Ryder Cup Team.

“It was a fantastic week,” the Italian recalled. “It was something special because it’s very difficult to win a tournament when you have to.

“It’s an unbelievable boost to your confidence because when you do that under that kind of pressure, then you are not scared of anything else.

“I have been hitting the ball very well lately, probably the best I’ve ever hit the ball in my career. My putting hasn’t been working, so I’ve been trying a few things with putting and hopefully things start solid for this week.”

Thoughts of The Ryder Cup are not far from people’s minds: qualifying begins next week for the 2012 event, and tomorrow Montgomerie will play alongside José Maria Olazábal, his successor as captain in Medinah next year. What’s more, the 2014 Ryder Cup will be held at Gleneagles.

“You can sense it,” said Montgomerie. “No doubt we’ll have a chat on the way around. We get on well.

“He (Olazábal) is his own man - a very passionate man - and I think he will do it his way, which is only right.

“If there’s something that’s particularly bothering him or there’s a problem or there’s something that he might need an answer on, he knows my number.”

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1BJÖRN, ThomasDEN18-11
T2COETZEE, GeorgeRSA18-11
T2LARRAZÁBAL, PabloESP18-11
T2WIESBERGER, BerndAUT18-11
T2FOSTER, MarkENG18-11
T6SJÖHOLM, JoelSWE18-10
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