Montgomerie Relieved, Revived By Senior Circuit August 10, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio By Dave Shedloski

Colin Montgomerie will be trying to win his second U.S. Senior Open, and fourth senior major, when he tees it up at Scioto this week. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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Colin Montgomerie never won a major championship in the prime of his career, though he was perennially one of the best in the world, rising as high as No. 2, and winning enough times on the European Tour to claim the Order of Merit a record eight times.

Since he turned 50 years old, however, all he wins are majors.

So when assessing favorites for this week’s 37th U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club, the smooth-swinging Scotsman has to be near the top of the list.

Montgomerie, 53, has won just three times since he joined the PGA Tour Champions – which he did one month after he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame – but they’ve been big ones. Two years ago he captured the Senior PGA Championship and the U.S. Senior Open, and last year he successfully defended at the Senior PGA.

Frankly, it was no surprise that he would eventually win a USGA championship. With a tee-to-green game that was among the best for more than a decade, he had multiple chances to win the U.S. Open. But two years ago at Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla., he finally improved on his three runner-up finishes.

“I've been trying for 20-odd years to win a USGA event,” Montgomerie said Wednesday. “And finally, finally, I managed it in a playoff against Gene Sauers there at Oak Tree National. It was a thrill. It was more a relief than anything else. Finally I've done it. I've finally won a USGA event. To have that magnificent trophy in the house for a year was superb, and I look forward to trying to do it again.”

One of the things that held Montgomerie back during his regular tour career was his inability to enjoy the journey. That is no longer the case. With age comes wisdom, a bit more patience and understanding. And a better short game, too.

“What I've got better at over these three years I've played on the Champions Tour, that I've had to and have improved my green work from where I was in the '90s,” he said. “I got to No. 2 in the world in the '90s, and I believe I'm a better chipper and putter now than I ever was.”

But, mostly, he doesn’t have a short fuse anymore. He doesn’t dwell on the misplayed shot or the misspoken utterance from the gallery that in the past might have darkened his mood. Montgomerie is one of the better interviews in the game, jovial and garrulous, but that persona was buried under the burden of expectation – his own mostly – on the golf course.

“I think you learn and you mature as you go along, and I didn't embrace the American public possibly the way that I should have done earlier on in my career, and it hurt me in majors, hurt me trying to win major championships,” he admitted. “I've embraced playing here since I turned 50. I really am enjoying it, and I think the golf fans are seeing that, and they are giving back. So it's a two-way street.

“I’m thoroughly enjoying myself out here, and I think that, if anything, if you enjoy yourself, you're usually quite good at it, whatever you do, and I really am enjoying what I'm doing.”

He’ll enjoy it even more if he can reprise his winning formula from two years ago. He has yet to win in 2016, but he was runner-up in the Senior PGA and he qualified for the Open Championship at Royal Troon, where he made the cut. Even more importantly, he figured out a recent flaw in his swing that had robbed him of his patented fade for a few weeks.

“I was actually playing very poorly the first four, five months of this year. And although I qualified for the Open and made the cut and everything, that was only because it was local knowledge. I was playing particularly badly,” Montgomerie explained. “I was actually drawing the ball, hooking the ball, pulling it left. And now I've got that straightened out. And last week, I didn't putt the way I should have done but played remarkably well through the green.

“So bringing that form here is vital. So I'm so looking forward to here. So this is, I hate to say, the start of my season, and I hope so, in major play, being the last one we play.”

And if he doesn’t play well, Montgomerie can still be satisfied with what he’s been doing. He didn’t expect to play much senior golf. Now he can’t get enough of it.

“The Champions Tour is a fabulous place to play. They said it was good. It's better than that,” he said. “There's no great egos out here. I've said this before. We've all attained a certain standing to be out here in the first place. There's no great envy out here. Everybody seems genuinely happy with anyone else's success, and it's just a very welcome place to be. There's a warmth here that I haven't felt in the past, and I blame myself for that sometimes that I didn't give it an opportunity. Now I am, and I'm enjoying it.”

And winning majors, too. That always helps.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently writes for USGA websites.

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