Friends reunited

12/28/2013 11:17:27 AM
Colin Montgomerie celebrates on the 18th at Woburn  (EuropeanTour)
Colin Montgomerie celebrates on the 18th at Woburn (EuropeanTour)

The 2013 season may not have been a Ryder Cup year, but it is likely to find a footnote in the annals chronicling the history of golf’s greatest team competition as the year that five of Europe’s captains, and most successful players, reunited on the European Senior Tour.

Colin Montgomerie’s ‘coming of age’ in June not only represented the next episode in the illustrious career of the victorious eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner, it also heralded an exciting new chapter in the 22 year history of the Senior Tour.  

In 2010, the Scot had followed Mark James, Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam in presiding over Europe’s Ryder Cup hopes, successfully leading his team to victory against the United States at the Celtic Manor Resort.

Three years on from that career-defining moment, Montgomerie retraced the spike-marks of the same quartet again when he joined the Senior Tour, aiming to follow their ground-breaking accomplishments once more as he entered his sixth decade.

Montgomerie played under the stewardship of all four in The Ryder Cup from 1999-2006, with the quintet having been central to Europe’s cause together as teammates for three consecutive matches from 1991-1995.

Those unforgettable shared memories irretrievably unify a quintet whose influence on the higher echelons of European golf spans more than five decades, and who continue to promote and support the game globally.

It took Montgomerie just three events to find his feet and join his esteemed peers in the Senior Tour winners’ club, when he dominated the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters at Woburn Golf Club in early September.

Having eased himself into life on the Senior Tour with top 30 finishes in the US Senior Open and The Senior Open Championship, Montgomerie carded consecutive rounds of 68 followed by a closing 70 to finish six shots clear of Spaniard Miguel Angel Martin and Englishman Paul Wesselingh, claiming his first tournament victory for more than six years.

“Joining the Senior Tour has been a new chapter in my life,” said Montgomerie. “I feel very lucky. When I turned 50 I became a member of three tours; the Senior Tour, the Champions Tour in America, and The European Tour. How often does that happen in life? How often is it that when you get older, you have more opportunities available? It’s a fabulous time.

“It is like a new lease of life turning 50 in golf. I can’t think of any other sports where you take a new step on in your career at such an age and to have such a fine Tour, such an excellent brand, as the Senior Tour as part of that is brilliant.”

Rookie Montgomerie finished tied fourth in the Russian Open Golf Championship (Senior) and sixth in the MCB Tour Championship in Mauritius to end his debut campaign in 11th position on the Order of Merit.

His Senior Tour career may have started brightly, but he has some way to go in order to match the considerable achievements of James, Torrance, Langer and Woosnam on the over 50s circuit.

Both James, who led Europe at Brookline in 1999, and Torrance, the victorious captain at The Belfry three years later, celebrated their 60th birthdays in 2013, marking a decade on the Senior Tour in which they continued to enjoy success around the world.

After 18 victories on the European Tour, James has triumphed twice on the Senior Tour, but perhaps his most notable win after the age of 50 came on American soil in 2004, when he claimed the Ford Senior Players Championship, defeating Ryder Cup teammate José Maria Cañizares in a play-off.

Torrance’s proud Senior Tour legacy is undoubtedly his three John Jacobs Trophy victories, earned for topping the Order of Merit in 2005, 2006 and 2009, which is equal to Carl Mason’s tally and only bettered by Tommy Horton’s record haul of five.

The Scot’s enduring appeal, both as a captain and a player, was in evidence in 2013 when he was chosen by the current Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley to lead the Great Britain & Ireland team in the Seve Trophy by Golf+, just seven weeks after he just missed out on a sentimental victory in the SSE Scottish Senior Open.

Torrance finished one shot behind rookie Santiago Luna over the Torrance course at Fairmont St Andrews, coming up agonisingly short in his bid for 12th Senior Tour title.

There was frustration too for Woosnam and Langer in 2013, although like Torrance both can be immensely proud of their accomplishments thus far on the Senior Tour.

Woosnam, who led Europe to victory in The 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland, became the first former European Tour Order of Merit winner to repeat the feat on the Senior Tour when he won the John Jacobs Trophy in his rookie campaign in 2008.

Having won 29 times on The European Tour, the former World Number One and Masters Champion has triumphed four times so far on the Senior Tour, and threatened to add to his collection on several occasions during the 2013 season.

The Welshman was unable to convert a final round lead into a popular victory on home soil in the Speedy Services Wales Senior Open, succumbing to a magnificent closing 66 by Philip Golding at Royal Porthcawl, the host venue for next year’s Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex.

He also had opportunities in Germany, first in the Berenberg Masters – the tournament where he secured his last win in 2011 – where Danish newcomer Steen Tinning, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, claimed his maiden title, and then, following a superb opening round of 65, in the same country at the WINSTONgolf Senior Open, where Gordon Brand Jnr ended three winless years.

Langer’s heartache was perhaps more dramatic still, the 2004 Ryder Cup winning captain taking a two shot lead down the final hole in The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex at Royal Birkdale, before leaving his third shot in the greenside bunker and then carding a double bogey when he failed to get up and down second time round.

That slip meant a play-off with Mark Wiebe and after two attempts in the fading Southport light, the pair returned the following morning for three additional holes, with American Wiebe eventually prevailing following the longest play-off in the Championship’s 27 year history, and its first Monday finish.

Gracious as ever in defeat, two-time Masters Champion Langer has enjoyed more than his fair share of success as a senior golfer since turning 50, topping the Money List on the US Champions Tour for a fifth time in 2013. He also won back-to-back Majors three years ago when he captured The Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie followed by the US Senior Open a week later at Sahalee in Seattle.

In 2014 The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex visits Wales for the first time, meaning Montgomerie will return to the country where he led Europe to Ryder Cup glory in 2010.

That will give him another chance to finally land the Major championship he craves, while the winner of a record eight European Tour Order of Merit crowns will undoubtedly hope to follow Woosnam’s example at some point by also lifting the John Jacobs Trophy.

It remains to be seen whether Montgomerie can emulate the success of his Ryder Cup predecessors on the Senior Tour, but for now it is a case of so far, so good, Monty.