Golf notes

Absence colors his view

Montgomerie irked by lack of Masters invite

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jim McCabe
Globe Staff / April 3, 2008

Oh, Monty, old chap, you've done it again. Misfired under pressure, that is.

Certainly, it doesn't rank with that woeful shot from the fairway with a mere 7-iron at the 72d hole of the 2006 US Open. He missed the green and squandered another golden chance to win that elusive major. It doesn't match the mishaps that cost him chances to win the 1992 US Open or the 1994 US Open or the 1995 PGA Championship, but it's quite clear why Colin Stuart Montgomerie has finished second five times - but never first - in the big ones.

He doesn't think clearly. He lets his emotions get in the way.

Criticizing the Masters' tournament committee for inviting one golfer each from Thailand, China, and India to join next week's festivities at Augusta National GC paints Montgomerie as a whopping boor.

Not only is he way off base, but he is trying to lay blame on his absence from this year's Masters everywhere but where it belongs - on his lumbering shoulders. For the record, Montgomerie has missed the cut in each of his last four appearances at Augusta National and in his last eight starts in the major championships, he has missed six cuts, finished tied for 42d, and had that memorable chance to win at Winged Foot in 2006.

We know how that turned out, don't we? And we know that a three-way piece of second in a major nearly two years ago doesn't win you a pass into the 2008 Masters. No, sir. You have to earn it via a number of other ways and plain and simple, Montgomerie has failed. By falling to 75th in the world rankings, he'll be home "washing his car," or so he told reporters in Germany, where he was doing some promotional work. Unfortunately, that's not all he said, because he continued with this gem:

"Now, if I were the only person in the country, a la China, I might get in. It is a strange way to make up a field for a major championship - television rights," said Montgomerie, who'll be missing the Masters for just the second time since 1992.

Montgomerie did not express a beef with limiting exemptions to only the top 50 in the world ranking. Instead, he seemed bitter that tournament officials had gone outside the figure to award special exemptions to three players ranked below him - No. 80 Jeev Singh of India, No. 93 Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand, and No. 111 Liang Wen-Chong of China. Montgomerie insinuated that Masters officials awarded the spots strictly to improve their television rights package in that corner of the world and while he has been a single-minded and moody soul incapable of accepting blame, let us count the ways in which he has turned this into sour grapes.

1. The Masters has always been about extending special exemptions to players from around the globe. Two Englishmen and a Canadian were in the debut field in 1934 and Japan was represented by Torchy Toda and Chick Chin in 1936. In 1940, Argentines Enrique Bertolino and Martin Prose were invited; the great South African, Bobby Locke, was introduced in 1947; and 1950 brought out Roberto De Vicenzo of Argentina and Norman Von Nida of Australia. What television rights were Masters officials exploiting back then?

2. Montgomerie had a chance to earn a spot into the Masters at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill tournament - to which he was invited, by the way - but he missed the cut. Then he went to the CA Championship and failed there, too, shooting 292 to finish tied for 65th, beaten by the likes of Toru Taniguchi, S.S.P. Chowrasia, and Chapchai Nirat.

3. There are a host of notable and talented names ranked below 50 but ahead of Montgomerie (Bart Bryant, Rod Pampling, and Brits Graeme McDowell and Bradley Dredge) and even more sitting just behind (Chad Campbell, Joe Durant, Billy Mayfair, Davis Love, Lucas Glover, Thomas Bjorn, and Chris DiMarco), none of whom like the thought of sitting out the Masters, but they haven't countered by poking fun at Singh, Marksaeng, and Wen-Chong.

4. Which is what Montgomerie is doing, in his childish, indignant way. He's passing judgment on the quality of golfers from that part of the world, even though he's the first one to hop a jet and head for those money-grabs in Asia. Since 2006, Montgomerie has played five times in China, and a dozen times in Asia, and that doesn't even begin to get into the course design business that has seen him get involved in projects in China, Malaysia, Bahrain, Vietnam, Thailand, and Dubai. Apparently, it's OK for him to grow the game (and his bank account) but not Masters officials.

Granted, Singh, Marksaeng, and Wen-Chong aren't serious threats to derail Tiger Woods, but neither is Montgomerie. Their presence will continue a slice of Masters flavor; Montgomerie's absence will be a contributor to the precious serenity of the surroundings. He has done nothing to diminish the belief he's a Hall of Fame talent. He's reaffirmed, however, that he's also a Hall of Fame lout.

Joining the Tour group

Consider her like any other college student doing an internship. Alison Walshe is merely going to work the next few days to get a glimpse at her desired profession.

The only difference is, she won't be stuck in some office, but rather walking plush green fairways under vibrant blue sky. Hey, Palm Springs in April isn't hard to take and Walshe says so right away.

"It's cool to be part of it all, and I can't complain. Right now, it's perfect - in the 80s."

Walshe, the 22-year-old University of Arizona senior via Westford, is one of the leading women amateur golfers in the country, a distinction that earned her an invitation into the field for this week's Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage, Calif., the first LPGA Tour major championship of the season. In less than two months, Walshe will set her sights on the NCAA Championships, and later this year she'll join the US Curtis Cup team at vaunted St. Andrews, but first things first. She's prepared to challenge the best on the LPGA Tour.

OK, not quite. Her goals are far more understated.

"Obviously, I want to gain some experience," said Walshe, who has won twice on the collegiate front this spring. "But I want to play well. I've got the same goals as any other tournament - to play well and try to be comfortable."

Plenty of drama at every turn

Zurich Classic officials didn't have most of the top-ranked players, but hardly anyone noticed, given the wild circumstances that made for intriguing action at TPC Louisiana.

It started with a stray bullet that grazed the arm of noted chef Paul Prudhomme and ended with a 26-year-old Argentine embracing a $1,116,000 check with a win in just his 10th pro tournament on American soil.

Andres Romero's stunning triumph, which while deserved, does fall under the heading of strange. That's because while Romero was tied for second and just a shot off the lead through 54 holes, he went off some three hours ahead of the leaders thanks to miserable weather that didn't afford officials the chance to re-pair. When Romero returned Sunday morning to complete a stunning 65 and roar up the leaderboard, he was sent right out for Round 4, even while those he was battling for the top spot still played third-round holes.

With a closing 68, Romero got to 13 under, then waited three hours while one by one the challengers faltered. Peter Lonard had the best chance. He birdied the 16th to tie, but bogeyed the par-3 17th and couldn't birdie the par-5 18th, thus making Romero the fourth straight player to make the Zurich Classic his maiden victory on the PGA Tour.

A flashy player, Romero was in some ways overshadowed by the happenings at this tournament. Consider the travails of Retief Goosen, Brandt Jobe, and Alex Cejka. Each of them completed their third rounds Saturday, believing they had missed the rare 54-hole cut necessitated by having more than 78 players make the 36-hole cut. Off they went, to Orlando, Dallas, and Las Vegas, respectively, but late Saturday night they got the word - officials were waiving the 54-hole cut because of time constraints. No worries for Goosen, who jets privately and easily turned around. Jobe walked off of one plane and onto another. But Cejka? The poor guy landed in Vegas very late and only had time to grab a plane to Houston, from where he drove some six hours through the night to make it to TPC Louisiana an hour before his 7:40 tee time.

As for the obscenity-laced outburst Bubba Watson directed at playing competitor Steve Elkington in Round 2, it's out there in our YouTube world for your viewing pleasure. File it under petulant pros at play, but take note that it's one of those disputes where it's hard to root for either player.


Ochoa prowling like a tigress
You can gauge success in a number of ways and you'll find no shortage of golfers who measure up. But dominating? Now you're talking only a handful of competitors in the last 25 years or so, the most obvious of whom is Tiger Woods. On the LPGA Tour, however, Lorena Ochoa has entered that realm and one way to appreciate just what she is doing is to consider by how much she is whipping her competition. The dynamic 26-year-old Mexican steamrolled to a seven-shot victory in the Safeway International Sunday and she has won 10 times since the start of 2007 by an average of 4.5 strokes. In that same period, the other 24 LPGA Tour stroke-play tournaments (we are not counting the September debacle in Arkansas that went just 18 holes) have been decided by an average of 1.625 strokes. Only seven events since 2007 have been won by four or more shots, with Ochoa producing six of those walkovers.

Grounds for celebration
In case you're in need of dinner conversation, nearly half (28 of 64) of Woods's PGA Tour wins have come over just six courses. His favorite playgrounds have been Firestone CC and Torrey Pines (six wins each), while Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge is close behind (five). There have been four wins each at Augusta National and Cog Hill and three times he has triumphed at Doral's "Blue Monster."

Long way down
And more friendly fodder: Of the 18 players who have won major championships since 2000, only 10 are currently ranked within the top 30 in the world. More wild is the fact that six are situated outside the top 100 and three aren't inside the top 250. Who are the three who've fallen far, far from view? Michael Campbell, the 2005 US Open champion, is ranked 253d; your 2004 British Open champ, Todd Hamilton, is ranked 698th; and the biggest fall of them all belongs to 2001 British Open winner David Duval, sitting at No. 815, two spots behind the legendary Oskar Bergman.

Hart joins the club
Quietly, Dudley Hart achieved a victory of sorts at the Zurich Classic. Riding a major medical exemption, he entered the 2008 season needing to make $485,931 in 15 starts, the bulk of which he piled up with a third-place finish at Pebble Beach in February. At New Orleans, Hart finished joint 12th, added $110,825 to his stash, and is now 50th on the money list with $528,516. Even more importantly, Hart is fully exempt for the remainder of the season.

Local updates
James Driscoll
of Brookline got some TV time in Sunday's final round, but it wasn't so much connected to his 66 that was tied for low round of the day. Instead, he was in the pairing with Andres Romero, the eventual winner. It marked Driscoll's best final-round score in 75 career tournaments. It also continued a sort of love affair with the golf course, for Driscoll wound up tied for 12th, his best finish since losing a playoff right there in New Orleans three years ago. With three top-10 finishes in 2008, Driscoll has moved to 95th on the money list.

Marshfield's Geoff Sisk finished tied for 15th at last week's Nationwide Tour stop in Louisiana, the $8,137 check pushing him to 70th on the money list.

Approach shots
Tripp Isenhour
returned to competition for the first time since being charged with misdemeanors over the killing of a red-shouldered hawk, which is a protected migratory bird. At the Nationwide Tour stop in Broussard, La., Isenhour was afforded extra security, though there were no incidents. His only contact with feathered creatures came in the form of the 13 birdies he made to help him finish tied for 22d, but the even better news arrived a few days later when he got through a Monday qualifier for this week's Shell Houston Open on the PGA Tour.

Ernie Els has withdrawn from the Houston tournament. He cited a virus that plagued him during four lackluster rounds at the recent CA Championship and the desire to be healthy for next week's Masters.

His nickname is "Two Gloves" because, unlike most golfers, he wears one on each hand, but perhaps Tommy Gainey should remove one to work a calculator. In the opening round of last week's Nationwide Tour stop in Louisiana, Gainey signed for a 2-over 73 instead of the 71 he actually shot, so he was forced to accept the higher score. Gainey wound up in a share of 33d, so the mistake cost him about $1,800.

PGA Tour veteran Ben Bates was happy to get the nod to tee it up as an alternate in that Nationwide Tour event, but first it meant quitting as John Morse's caddie. Understanding of the situation, Morse gave his blessings, so Bates dropped the bag, rushed to his car, and grabbed his clubs, turned in his bib, and took a tee out of his pocket. Alas, both men missed the cut, Bates by two, Morse by three.

Last call for those who haven't earned Masters spots and Davis Love is aboard in Houston, where in addition to the huge check, the winner gets an exemption into Augusta. Bart Bryant, Chad Campbell, Billy Mayfair, Tim Herron, and Rod Pampling are some of the others notables who've entered for that last-ditch try.

John Daly's saga continues. He's cashed three pedestrian checks in eight starts, six in 18 dating to last summer, and it's been 48 rounds since he's posted back-to-back sub-70 efforts.

It's stunning to stumble upon Darren Clarke's name at No. 240 in the world order. More head-shaking, however, to see that David Howell is only 237th.

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