Will Monty return to elite-level status?
The 1982 movie "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" may indeed be a true statement. But if Ben Hogan was looking down on the Colonial playoff while wearing his champion's jacket Sunday evening, chances are the Wee Icemon may have cracked a rare smile.
There was lightweight Richard S. Johnson, weighing in at 145 pounds soaking wet, going pound-for-pound -- quite figuratively -- against Tim Herron, listed at a laughingly generous 210 in the current PGA Tour media guide.
For those who watched Herron win on the second playoff hole, let's just say that number is the biggest surprise since Lumpy jumped out of a birthday cake on that uproarious TV commercial.
The Weekly 18 begins with comments on another man who's been surprising lately -- though not in a positive way.
Each man has been at or near the top of his profession for much of the past two decades. Their respective careers have been bounteous with success, though the lack of a major championship title will always serve as a blemish on the records. On home turf, each receives love and support, but in all other arenas they have been villified.
The similarities between Colin Montgomerie and Barry Bonds end there.
The latter has received his share of criticism for allegations of using performance-enhancers, whereas Monty gained tormentors throughout his career for, well, just being Monty. On its own, his lack of support never seemed fair; when compared with that of Bonds, it seems downright shameless. Of course, while the baseball player has seemingly drawn more cynics later in his career, the golfer has actually gained additional advocates away from the friendly confines of the familiar European Tour stops. Perhaps it was those "Be Nice To Monty" buttons that littered the galleries during the 2002 U.S. Open or simply the fact that everyone roots for an underdog and Montgomerie has become a lovable-loser type over the past few years, but the catcalls have subsided and stateside fans have warmed to the big lug.
But the biggest difference between Bonds and Montgomerie as they enter the twilight of their careers is the fact that one is still chasing home run records and garnering greater headlines each day while the other may be gradually fading into the sunset.
It was just last year that Monty contended for the British Open title in his native Scotland, finishing second to Tiger Woods by five strokes. One now has to wonder if that was his last hurrah on a grand stage. Though Montgomerie technically owns a victory this season -- at the "2006" Hong Kong Open, which was played during the first week of December but counts on this year's schedule -- he has struggled to maintain his high profile.
Following the win, he was ranked ninth on the Official World Golf Ranking, up from 81st at the beginning of 2005. He ended the year one spot higher, but things have taken a quick turn for the worse. Monty has missed the cut at seven of his last eight events, including The Masters and this past week's Irish Open, played on a course he designed himself. His ranking has since dropped to 23rd, the second-worst decline of anyone in the world's top 50 (Justin Leonard has slipped 16 spots).
"I want to be in the top 10," Montgomerie said recently. "That's my goal and that keeps me going."
It's a noble thought, but one has to wonder: Have we seen the last of Colin Montgomerie, elite professional golfer? Perhaps, but it depends on your definition of elite. It will take some work for Monty to climb back into the top 10, but he'll continue sporadically contending for tournament titles and surely will find success when the Ryder Cup takes place in Europe in September.
"I haven't performed that well," said Monty, who's so dismayed with his game that he's switched to a belly putter and may start using two drivers, like Phil Mickelson. "There is no reason why not. I am not going through swing changes, that's not going to happen. It just hasn't clicked in. Plenty of time."
And maybe he's right. The soon-to-be 43-year-old knows that, like Bonds, he could become a newsmaker late in his career, too. Of course, Monty will have many more fans on his side when he does.
Despite the fact that he's not even halfway into his rookie season on tour, Nathan Green is already trying to dispel the image that most fans have of him. Upon hearing his name, the likely reaction is to wince when recalling his home-run swing and ensuing chunk on the first hole of a three-man playoff at Torrey Pines earlier this year. But the 30-year-old Aussie is quietly having a terrific initial season, banking a T-4 finish at Colonial -- his third top-five this year.
At one point early in Sunday's final round, Charley Hoffman shared the lead at Colonial. Just a few hours later, that must have seemed like weeks ago. Instead of earning his second straight top-10 result and fourth in 13 starts this year, Hoffman followed a first hole birdie with 12 pars and five bogeys for a final-round 4-over 74. It left the blonde, shaggy-haired Californian, who barely earned his tour card as the 19th-leading money-winner on the Nationwide Tour last season, in a disappointing share of 30th, though he still showed plenty of game throughout the week. Like many of his fellow rookies, Hoffman's a bomber; he was eighth on tour in driving distance at 303.6 yards entering the week. Even though he's a first-year full-timer, playing on tour is nothing new to the 29-year-old San Diego native. He first competed against the big boys in his hometown Buick Invitational, shooting 74-76 to miss the cut as a 17-year-old in 1994.
All this rookie talk got us thinking about the tight race going on for Rookie of the Year. Let's take a look at the numbers of the top five candidates:
|PGA Tour rookies in '06|
All five are having terrific seasons, but on the PGA Tour wins are the thing. So if we had to make a ROY pick right now, it'd be Holmes, the only one with a victory under his belt.
Just when you thought you were done rooting for David Duval ... he pulls you back in. The 13-time PGA Tour champion's struggles over the last few years have been well-documented, with his full playing privileges -- stemming from the 2001 British Open victory -- due to expire at season's end. Many thought Duval, who's repeatedly said he's happy with his life these days, would fade into obscurity after this season, but it's time to keep a careful eye on him. On Sunday, he carded a 2-under 68 to finish T-25 at Colonial. It was Duval's second straight week inside the top 25; he has now played seven consecutive rounds at par or better. Though Duval, who's made the cut five times in 11 starts this year, has only earned $165,940, leaving him well short of collecting status for 2007, he's certainly going to be one of the better story lines during the second half of this season.
While many of his Australian cohorts have shined on the U.S. tour this season -- four Aussies have combined for five victories so far; Stuart Appleby has two and Aaron Baddeley, Geoff Ogilvy and Rod Pampling have one apiece -- Peter Lonard has struggled to regain his form of a year ago. In 2005, Lonard won at Harbour Town en route to a career-best 34th place on the money list. Entering Colonial, however, he had been simply mediocre, making plenty of cuts (seven in nine starts), but hardly parlaying that into a big-time cash conquest. His lone top-10 came at the season-opening Mercedes Championships, until finishing T-4 this week. A low-ball hitter who doesn't crush it off the tee, Lonard needs to take advantage at places like Colonial, where players of his ilk can certainly succeed.
During an ESPN.com chat session from Kapalua last year, David Toms confided that Colonial CC is his favorite course on tour. And with good reason. Entering this week, he owned four top-eight finishes in the last six years at Colonial, though he's never won the event. One of the world's top ball-strikers looked like he'd be adding to his exemplary record at the ultimate ball-striker's venue this week, hanging around just outside of the top-10 while heading to the back nine on Sunday. Instead, Toms played the final seven holes in 4-over, shooting a 2-over 72 for the day and finishing T-30 for the week.
Most unbelievable fact on the PGA Tour so far this season? It has nothing to do with Watson's driving prowess or the multiple-victory seasons of Woods, Mickelson and Appleby. Instead, it's this: Through 20 stroke-play events, the eventual winner has come from the final grouping of the tournament in all but one. What does that tell us? That today's players, many of whom are putting increasing emphasis on the mental side of the game and remaining calm in high-pressure situations, are learning to become winners, with fewer final-round leaders choking away the lead coming down the stretch. Oh, and that one champion who did not come from the last grouping? If you guessed Kirk Triplett at the Chrysler Classic of Tucson, give yourself a pat on the back.
Steve Flesch must have felt pretty good about his first-round 1-under 69 ... and yet, it left him as only the fourth-lowest lefty of the day. Even with Mickelson skipping the event, lefties were right on Thursday, with Watson in second place following a 65, and Mike Weir and Nick O'Hern just one stroke further back. Unfortunately for the southpaws, the good times were "left" on the course that day. O'Hern finished as low lefty for the week, in a share of 12th place.
One leftover note from Brett Wetterich's winning press conference at last week's Byron Nelson Championship: "I live in some townhouses, and we have a good time out there," he said. "There's a group of us, and we have a fun time." Hey, we've got nothing against community living, but you've got to wonder when the last time a guy living in a townhouse won on the PGA Tour. We're sure it's a nice place, but there could be some players out there with private jets bigger than Wetterich's pad.
And then there's the flip side of that coin, in which Villegas -- he of the zero career PGA Tour victories -- can simultaneously be seen on the covers of Golf Digest and Golf World magazines. Two thoughts come to mind: 1. Is he the first non-winning tour regular to grace so many periodical covers?; and 2. Is he contractually obligated to wear the limey-green/lemony-yellow fluorescent pants for said photo shoots? Or does he just do that for fun?
The issue of whether Michelle Wie should be competing in men's professional events is the single biggest hot-button topic in the game right now. From what we've heard from golf fans, about half can't get enough of the 16-year-old phenom while the same amount are sick of hearing about her. Bad news for the latter group: Wie's quest to qualify for the U.S. Open -- and keep in mind, it's not the "men's" U.S. Open; the tournament is open to both genders -- could become the biggest storyline of the year. Yes, we know we said the same thing when Wie was trying to earn an exemption into The Masters via last year's U.S. Amateur PubLinks Championship. And no, a berth in the Open wouldn't quite compare with one to Augusta National. But it would be close. In case you've been lost in the rough for the past week, here are the details: Wie will play in a 36-hole sectional qualifier on June 5 at Canoe Brook in New Jersey. According to the USGA, the final number of competitors and Open qualifiers for that site have not yet been determined, but it's likely there will be a shade more than 200 players for 20-30 spots.
An experienced veteran like Cristie Kerr or Karrie Webb? Or a young phenom like Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel or Wie? Those were the questions entering this season about who may be able to give Annika Sorenstam a run for her money as the game's top player. Turns out the answer may be none of the above. At 24, Lorena Ochoa is still young in professional golfing terms, but a seasoned vet compared to the fresh-faced teens that have popped up on the scene in the last few years. With her second victory of the season at the Sybase Classic, Ochoa regained her grasp as leader on the money list, but perhaps more incredibly, she has finished in first or second place in each of her last six starts. Ochoa still has a way to go to officially catch Sorenstam on the Women's World Ranking, but there's no question who the hottest player in the game is right now.
Ochoa owned four career LPGA victories entering the Sybase, including last month's Takefuji Classic, but she's been in danger of being a player who can't win down the stretch, a label Chris DiMarco and Padraig Harrington have known all too well at points during their respective careers. With 12 runner-up finishes during the past four seasons, including, amazingly, five so far this year, she earned the disrespectful nickname "O-choke-a" from some pundits. Let's bury it once and for all. Though Ochoa is easily the best player without a major victory -- and despite the fact she's struggled in the final rounds at those events -- the major titles are going to come. And soon.
It isn't often the PGA Tour is overshadowed by its neighbor across the pond, so mark this coming week on the calendar. The BMW Championship, held at the Wentworth Club will feature an elite field of international players, including Ernie Els and Michael Campbell, and ranks as one of the top tournaments on the European Tour schedule. Meanwhile, the U.S.-based tour heads to Memphis for the FedEx St. Jude Classic but should include only three members of the world's top 25 (Toms, DiMarco and Kenny Perry).
In response to a recent reader letter to his weekly column, ESPN.com's own Bob Harig unearthed a rather interesting rule -- or non-rule, such as it is. It seems neither the USGA nor the PGA Tour has a bylaw in place prohibiting the use of iPods or other portable listening devices during the course of competition, provided there are no golf tips or lessons available on the device. Got us to thinking how many touring pros even know of this possibility and when we may see a player use such a tool to drown out gallery noise (or that of certain playing partners). Could be an enticing prospect for tournaments with more raucous fans, such as the FBR Open, Buick Open and even -- dare we say it -- the Ryder Cup.
"I get to play Sunday, so that's a good thing. I've improved from last week."
-- Annika Sorenstam, after finishing Saturday's second round one stroke behind leader Gloria Park. Last week, she missed the cut at the Michelob Ultra Open.
"This winning thing isn't that easy."
-- Tim Herron, who triumphed at Colonial, his first PGA Tour victory since 1999.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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