HOYLAKE, England -- Colin Montgomerie defined his career in the final minutes of the U.S. Open. From the middle of the 18th fairway, off a flat lie to a hole located perfectly for the shape of his cut shot, Monty gripped a 6-iron and looked at his target. On his boat, watching on TV as "punishment" for missing the cut, Tiger Woods thought it was Monty's tournament to win. "It doesn't get any better than that," Woods said last week at the Cialis Western Open.
At 43, Monty was about to put himself in position to lose the label as the world's Best Player Without a Major. And then it happened. Monty switched to a 7-iron, swung like a man whose circuits had shorted out and said, "What kind of shot is that?" loud enough for the boom mike to catch it. Geoff Ogilvy eventually would win the tournament. This week at the European Open, Montgomerie agreed with Woods' assessment. "I had done all the hard things," the Scot said.
In Monty's 58 major appearances, he has five runner-up finishes, starting with the 1992 U.S. Open, cresting with his playoff losses in the 1994 U.S. Open and 1995 PGA Championship, and culminating with his latest catastrophe at Winged Foot. Can he put all that behind him and win at Hoylake? If he does, the United Kingdom would embrace him as it would no other champion, but there are demons to exorcise first. The British Open always has meant too much to Montgomerie, and his record there (his worst of the four majors) demonstrates that. His best chance came at Royal Lytham in 2001, when he led for 36 holes before collapsing on the weekend. Last year at St. Andrews, he was a distant second to Woods.
But if Montgomerie, ranked 13th in the world, is indeed the best player without a major, he's being chased by a foursome of stars. Someone from this group has the best chance of breaking through at Royal Liverpool. Surprisingly (or not, considering this is a British Open), none is American.
Padraig Harrington (World Rank: 18)
The Irishman missed last year's British Open because of the death of his father and is one of the few tour pros with experience at Hoylake, having competed in the 1995 British Amateur there. Like Monty, he gave away the U.S. Open on the 18th hole -- in Harrington's case a day earlier, with his triple-bogey 7 to end the third round. Unlike Monty, the Irishman doesn't have much major scar tissue yet, and he has bounced back from the Winged Foot slip with runner-up showings at the Booz Allen Classic and the French Open, the latter virtually securing him a spot on the European Ryder Cup team.
"I said all along I was playing very well but not been getting just reward for that," Harrington, who still is searching for his first win since the 2005 Barclays Classic, said at the European Open earlier this month. "Certainly, over the last couple weeks, I've scored a lot better and been right in there with a good chance. Now, it's back to focusing on winning tournaments."
Sergio Garcia (World Rank: 9)
The PGA Championship's return to Medinah next month reminds us that since finishing second to Woods in 1999, the Spaniard hasn't threatened in a major. He has two top-10s in The Masters and the U.S. Open, four top-10s in the British Open, and one other top-10 in the PGA, but he never has been on the back nine Sunday with a chance to win.
It's hard to get a read on Garcia this year. He's ranked ninth, yet has played much of the season as though he's 99th. He shot 78 Sunday at the Players with a chance to win, finished 46th at The Masters with a 79 in the third round and missed the cut at the U.S. Open with a pair of 78s. "I've never seen Royal Liverpool, so that's going to be something different," the Spaniard said. "We'll see how it goes."
Adam Scott (World Rank: 6)
Scott is the highest-ranked player without a major title. The Aussie has a pair of second- and third-place finishes this year, leads the tour in scoring average at 69.13, and is a past winner of the Players Championship. Countryman Ogilvy's win at Winged Foot hasn't changed how Scott looks at majors or his performances in them, which to this point have been largely disappointing, with a couple of ninth-place finishes in 20 starts since the 2001 British Open.
"I believe I can win a major, [but] not just because Geoff has won one," he said. "I think my game's good enough. It's just a matter of putting it all together." Scott considers being mentioned in this majorless quintet a compliment, considering he's only 25. "That's good," he added. "It kind of shows respect for my game."
Stuart Appleby (World Rank: 20)
Appleby gets top-five status based on his multiple-win season (Mercedes Championships, Shell Houston Open), the first of his career. Other than a playoff loss to Ernie Els at Muirfield in 2002, Appleby has only two top-10s in 38 major tries, and neither was of consequence. He's coming off a missed cut at Winged Foot and admits his major record is less than stellar. "If I keep having seasons like this, [a major title] is going to happen," he said. "I just have to prove to myself that I can play better."
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.