The Open 2016: Colin Montgomerie - the pied piper of Troon

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland at Royal Troon
Colin Montgomerie takes a rest during his round
Colin Montgomerie was playing on his home course of Royal Troon

They appeared on the tee in waves, mass ranks of people who wouldn't have dreamed of abandoning sleep to make it to Troon for the first ball being hit at 06:35 had it not been for the who was about to hit it - Colin Montgomerie.

Monty, aged 53 but still a man-child underneath it all. His first Open since 2010, his 22nd in all and maybe - probably - his last. On his home course too. The course he played as a young teenager. The one he knows every inch of.

He drew people to him as assuredly as the Pied Piper. He promised drama and he delivered. Again. We'd say that there has never been such a big crowd present for the first game of an Open Championship if it wasn't for the fact that none of us had much of a frame of reference.

There was a journalist standing to the right of that first tee who has been coming to the Open since 1962. Fifty four years and he couldn't recall when he'd last - or if he'd ever - made the effort to watch the first match going off. "You make the effort for Monty, though, don't you?" he said. "You don't want to miss that." You don't.

Monty's day finished with a battling level-par round of 71, but the bottom line tells you little of what happened to him out there. Stuff always happens to Monty. Good stuff, bad stuff. Stuff.

Before he hit his approach to the first green, he was distracted by a cameraman unwrapping some tape from his equipment at the top of a nearby grandstand. "He wasn't aware of what was directly below him, which was me," said Monty.

Monty glared - as only he can. He put his shot into the greenside bunker and then glared again. Two strokes into his Open and there was already a scene.

How many times have we seen that glare? You could construct a top-50 and still some memorable moments would miss the cut. Everyone who has followed him over the years has their favourites, their Monty meltdowns that never get old or lose their capacity to make you laugh.

There was the time at the US Open at Oakmont in 2007 when a spectator, boozed-up and just about able to stand up, called out to Monty from behind the ropes.

The great man was in no mood for chat, not when he was in the midst of shooting 82 and certainly not with a guy who had a half-eaten burger in one hand - tomato sauce dribbling down his arm - and a bottle of beer in the other. "Yaaay Monty," he hollered. "It's all there baby!"

Monty stopped dead in his tracks, eyeballed the guy, darkly muttered 'What did he just say to me?' and then walked on shaking his head.

In the Monty annals, you have to add the 2008 USPGA at Oakland Hills.

He shot 84 that day. At one point, he thinned a wedge across a green. A lady, within his earshot, cried out: "Gee whizz, ain't that a kick in the ass!" As sure as night follows day, she knew the stare was coming. "Did I really say that out loud?" she whimpered. She did. Monty heard it. Monty didn't like it.

That's why he had an army of people with him at the crack of dawn on Thursday. For that reason and for others. His bunker shot on that first hole? It was an impossible job. He knew it the moment he saw his ball drop in there. He tried to get it out - and failed.

Colin Montgomerie prepares to tee off at the first hole
Montgomerie was first to tee off at Royal Troon

"No-one in the field would have got it out of there," he said. "It was buried right in the face. Horrendous. My first attempt hit one of the top rivets of the bunker and spun up and as soon as it came down it landed in my footprint. My footprint is bigger than most, so that's no good.

"I had a chat with Alastair [McLean, his caddie] and he didn't have anything at all. He was useless at that stage. We all were. I tell you, the best shot I hit, probably one of the best shots of my life, was the fourth out of the bunker."

He came out sideways and chipped and putted for a double-bogey six. His playing partners, Luke Donald and Marc Leishman, both birdied. Three down on the field after one hole - it wasn't meant to be like this.

We strapped ourselves in for an implosion, but instead we got a fightback. The front nine at Troon are the scoring holes. If you don't make merry on that stretch then you're doomed, such is the attritional nature of the journey coming in.

Monty gathered himself and birdied the third and the fourth. He was disturbed again on the tee at the sixth but birdied that one too. He came to the eighth, the famous 123-yard Postage Stamp, having undone all the damage from the opening hole.

He was one-under par and feeling good. With Monty, more than any other golfer possibly in history, you can tell how he's playing by the way he's walking.

He walked tall, threw his approach to the left of the flag on eight, his ball obediently missing the slope into a graveyard bunker and rolling kindly to seven feet. He rolled that one in, too. Birdie.

Colin Montgomerie hacks out the greenside bunker on the first hole
Montgomerie had to play sideways out of the greenside bunker on the first hole

"Thank you, thank you," he said to the gallery. No stares now. No distractions. All he could see was fairways and greens. When he birdied the ninth, he got it to three-under. He looked at one of the giant leaderboards and there he was, right up the top.

"I had a quick look. I was number one on there. I thought, 'That's all right'."

Everybody says that the secret to Troon is to make your birdies early and then hang on for grim death from the brutish par four 11th flanked by whins on the left and the railway line on the right. Jack Nicklaus took 10 here in the 1962 Open. Monty took half that number but still dropped a shot.

He was having to scramble now. He made a 40-footer on 13 to save par then dropped another shot from the sand on 14 and another after driving way left on 15.

He was back to level par and needed to hole from 20ft on 18 to stay there. The putt dropped and Monty soared.

"I tell you what, a lot better players than me would have taken 71 after being two-over after the first hole. One of the easiest holes on the course, if not the easiest, and I'm two-over. So I'm proud of myself for hanging on because it was easy to score 78 there. Simple."

And Friday's second round? The aim remains the same. Make the cut, nothing more, nothing less. He knows what's coming, though. On Thursday, the weather was benign. On Friday, it's expected to be grim.

"This course hasn't shown any teeth yet," he said. "This is three out of 10. Friday we're talking seven or eight out of 10. It's going to be very different."

It was approaching 11:00 and Monty had somewhere he needed to be instead of yakking at the back of the 18th green. He said that a smell of bacon came wafting across the fairway out there on the seventh hole and he'd wished he could halt play and feed his face. That moment had now come.

"Just finished my opening round in the Open championship and I'm off to have my breakfast," he laughed.

He'd have ordered the full Monty, no doubt. He deserved it.

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