A silent aircraft sat on the runway at Ireland's Waterford Regional Airport, the pilot anxious to start its prop engines. Sitting forlornly on the airplane's steps, impatiently checking his gold Ebel watch and still trying to get over what had just happened to him in the recent Irish Open, was Colin Montgomerie. The burly Scot had chartered the flight home to England and offered a lift to his Surrey neighbor Sam Torrance. If the day had gone according to plan, Montgomerie would have held on to his third-round lead at Mount Juliet, then jumped into the plane and whooshed home to the suburbs south of London to celebrate with his wife, Eimear, and two-year-old daughter, Olivia. But Montgomerie stumbled home in 73 to finish fourth, and now he was stuck waiting for the winner, ironically the hitchhiking Torrance, who had hands to shake and a trophy to collect. "I told Sam I'd wait for him," Montgomerie explained later, trying his best to smile. "I didn't realize how long I'd have to wait."
On the eve of this week's Open Championship at St. Andrews, Montgomerie was still waiting—not for Sam Torrance, but for his own moment in the sun. Corey Pavin's victory in the U.S. Open bestowed upon Montgomerie golf's most detested title: highest-ranked player never to have won a major.
In the final tune-up for St. Andrews, Montgomerie finished third in the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, four strokes behind Wayne Riley of Australia and two back of Nick Faldo. Fourth-and third-place finishes going into a major would be taken as a positive sign by most players. Not Monty. To him they indicated an inability to close the deal, to finish strongly, to win.
"I decided to throw the Irish Open down the pan when I got home," Montgomerie said before play began at Carnoustie. "I threw the suitcase down, threw my clothes out and was thoroughly obnoxious. I had that championship to lose, and I lost it."
Obnoxious behavior has long been associated with Montgomerie, and there were moments at Carnoustie when his boorishness came shining through, particularly during the final two rounds when he could not make a putt of consequence as his chance at becoming the first Scotsman to win the country's national open slipped away. "I'm hitting the ball well enough to win next week, that's obvious, but my putting is desperate, to say the least," Montgomerie said after a final round of 70. "You can't win tournaments doing that. You can't even finish second."
Actually, the end had come the day before during a summer rainstorm. Tied for the lead at the halfway point, Montgomerie took 36 putts and shot 75 to drop six strokes behind Riley, a journeyman who had not won in 12 years on the European circuit. This was not the type of golf expected from "Europe's No. 1"—not by a long shot. Although he trails Faldo by five spots in the Sony Ranking, the eighth-rated Montgomerie topped the European money list in 1993 and 1994 and has become one of that tour's biggest names. But to himself, he has been a big disappointment. The Scottish Open was Montgomerie's fifth real chance to win since his last victory, in August 1994 at the German Open. The frustration showed during interviews after the 75.
"I two-putted every green—every green" Montgomerie said, contemptuously spitting out the words. "The third round is the most important round, and I've blown it again. This is the most disappointing day I've ever had on a golf course. Seventy-five is hopeless."
Montgomerie was particularly displeased by the bogey he made at the par-5 18th. His three-wood from 219 yards faded into the Barry Burn. To make matters worse, it wasn't until Montgomerie had stalked over the stone bridge near the green that he was informed of the fate of his ball by a rules official, whose job it then was to indicate the ball's point of entry into the hazard. "All right, hurry up, hurry up, I'm in no mood," Montgomerie barked as he stormed back over the bridge, dropped a new ball, chipped on and two-putted for the offending 6. "I finished out in style," he said sarcastically before stomping away from reporters. No one dared to follow.
Until then, things had gone quite well. Montgomerie opened at Carnoustie with eight birdies and a 64, which tied the course record. He reached nine under after 40 holes, but double-bogeyed the 5th and followed with a silly bogey at the par-5 6th when his three-wood second sliced into gorse near the green. An extensive search of the pricklers produced five balls before a spectator found Montgomerie's Titleist. He went on to make three birdies and a 71.
After the round, Montgomerie went out of his way to praise the helpful fan. "He went in there with only a T-shirt," said Montgomerie. "I think he drew blood. He saved me at least a shot. I didn't get his name, but I am truly grateful."