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Renewed major hopes for Colin Montgomerie

Colin Montgomerie started the year wondering if he would get a chance to play any of the major championships in America. Now he has reason to believe he can win one.

All Monty has to do is look back one month ago to St. Andrews, where he outplayed Tiger Woods in the third round of the British Open and gave him a brief scare on the last day before finishing second. He wound up five shots behind, but it was his best showing in a Grand Slam event in eight years.

``It would have been a nice little feather,'' Montgomerie said Wednesday. ``It would have been a big, bloody feather, I can assure you. I got quite close ... And it was good to show that I have not completely gone away, and I'm still around. It was quite good to have that feeling again.''

The next chance starts Thursday at the PGA Championship.

Long before Phil Mickelson was saddled with the burden as ``best to never win a major,'' it belonged to Montgomerie. He set a record in Europe with seven consecutive money titles, and had four close calls in the majors over a five-year stretch, including a playoff loss at the PGA Championship in 1995.

But he has been a forgotten figure of late, falling to No. 82 in the world ranking. And he began to wonder if at age 42, his time had already run out.

``Yes, you think that,'' he said. ``It's nice to know that it's possible to come back from that.''

It hasn't been easy, not only with his game, but outside distractions.

First came a divorce that gave the British tabloids a summer of fodder last year. Then came the Indonesian Open in late March, where Montgomerie failed to mark his ball in the rough during a rain delay, then replaced it the next morning in a more favorable position.

Having seen tape months later, Montgomerie said he didn't do it on purpose but still felt compelled to donate his fourth-place earnings to a tsunami relief fund. European tour players grumbled about the incident most of the summer, but Montgomerie turned the attention back to his golf at the British Open.

He had an eagle putt on the ninth hole of the final round that would have tied for the lead, had to settle for birdie, and Woods was able to slowly build his lead and coast to victory.

Montgomerie is now up to No. 24 in the world ranking, making him eligible for the World Golf Championships and likely all four majors next year. His confidence is soaring, even on a meaty course like Baltusrol.

At nearly 7,400 yards, he will be hitting longer irons than the power players into par 4s. But his driving is among the most accurate in golf, and Monty likes his chances from the short grass.

The only thing holding him back is a hand injury that caused him to withdraw at Gleneagles last week in Scotland. He played 18 holes Tuesday and reported his hand to be OK, although he purposely did not hit any shots out of the rough. He took Wednesday off, working on his putting.

Majors are still a tall order. All but one of his close calls -- the U.S. Open in 1992 and 1994, and the '95 PGA Championship -- occurred before Woods showed up.

``Majors have become a lot tougher since he emerged in 1997,'' Montgomerie said. ``Earlier on, I was competing against Ernie (Els) and Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman, that sort of player. Now there's one name that springs to mind very, very much, and it's one Mr. Woods.

``It will be interesting to see how he gets on here,'' he said. ``He's still got to hit the fairways, he's still got to do the job at hand, and he knows that more than anyone. I know if I put four rounds together ... you have a great opportunity of winning. I'm capable of doing that.''


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