TROON, Scotland – Colin Montgomerie led off The Open Championship at the course where he grew up, and briefly held the lead Thursday.
Montgomerie, 53, was raised a few houses down South Beach Road from Royal Troon and is a member of the course. He called hitting the first tee shot “a great honor,” comparing the nerves he felt at 6:45 a.m. to the ones he felt leading off on a Sunday at the Ryder Cup.
He made double-bogey at the first hole – after his playing partners, Marc Leishman and Luke Donald, both birdied the hole — but birdied five of the next eight holes to share the lead at 3 under. The grandstands left of Troon’s eighth hole, the famed Postage Stamp, were nearly full when Montgomerie’s group reached the tee at around 8 a.m. His tee rolled off the bank of the left bunker and stopped a few feet from the hole. He also made birdie at No. 9 to make the turn in 3-under 33.
Players must make their birdies on Royal Troon’s downwind front nine and hope for pars on the back. Montgomerie shot 3-over 38, making three bogeys and no birdies, on the second nine to post 71 in Thursday’s first round. He had to hole a 40-foot par putt at the 13th hole and closed his round with a 20-footer for par at 18.
Montgomerie was up at 4 a.m. for his tee time, early enough that he didn’t eat breakfast until after his round. He admit the smell of bacon sandwiches wafting from a stand near the seventh tee was distracting.
Fortunately, his threesome played the first round in little more than four hours, thanks in part to ideal weather conditions. Montgomerie called Thursday’s conditions a “3 our of 10.” It was a sunny opening day at The Open Championship, with barely a breath of wind. There’s a 90 percent chance of rain Friday.
“Tomorrow we’re talking about a 7, 8 out of 10 here,” said Montgomerie, a three-time major winner on PGA TOUR Champions. “I’m just glad I got that 71 in there because I’ll need them all tomorrow.”
He finished 24th and 25th in two previous Opens at Royal Troon. He had to go through qualifying in order to make this year’s field.
This year’s tournament didn’t get off to an ideal start for the local favorite. He hit his approach shot to No. 1 into an inescapable shot in the greenside bunker. He called his second attempt out of the bunker, which he hit out of his own footprint, one of the best shots of his life.
“My footprint is deeper than most, so that was no good,” Montgomerie said. “And then I hit a great shot to get it out of the bunker, and then a good up-and-down for 6. Five birdies in the next eight holes was good, very good.”
Montgomerie made birdie on the front nine’s two par-5s, 4 and 6, after laying up, then birdied the front nine’s final two holes. He still has a chance to achieve his goal for the week.
“All I was hoping for is to walk on the 18th on Sunday,” he said. “And I’m still with that; I haven’t changed my goal.”