I was present at Winged Foot for the 2006 U.S.Open and like so many golf fans the world over, 14-years on I still wonder why Colin Montgomerie did not ask if he could ‘play up’ in tackling the final hole that year at Winged Foot.
Seemingly lost in golf’s history books ahead of this week’s rescheduled 2020 U.S. Open is the full story of what took place on the last hole on that last day on 18th June, 2006.
It’s correctly reported Montgomerie and Phil Mickelson each double-bogeyed the final hole while Jim Furyk took a bogey, each player losing out by a shot to Aussie Geoff Ogilvy.
As for Monty, the Scot was undecided in whether to hit a 6-iron or 7-iron into the final green. He went with a 7-iron only to miss the green from where he chipped and then three-putted.
It was Monty’s third second place finish in a U.S. Open and the fifth runner-up finish in the 75 majors he contested.
Monty was drawn in the third last group on that final day of the 2006 U.S. Open with Vijay Singh, the pair at five-over and three adrift of England’s Kenneth Ferry.
Monty had begun day three just one off the lead but started horribly in dropping five shots in his opening four holes. The Scot eventually signed for a 75 to drop to five-over and probably therein lay a root cause for his Winged Foot failure and maybe not what took place a day later.
Then in the last round, and to his enormous credit, Monty knuckled down to birdie the fourth and fifth holes and while he gave the shots back on 10 and 14, he then had the crowd on their feet in taking the lead by holing a 50-footer for birdie at 17.
One hole to play and one hole away from a first major championship.
A week prior, 16 golfers had withdrawn from the Barclays Classic at nearby Westchester, choosing to rest up ahead of the U.S. Open.
Singh was nearly one of them.
He said after two rounds at Westchester: “This year has been horrible, really. I don’t know if it’s my game or my head.”
The Fijian, a former No. 1, had not won a tournament since the July before but he found his game at Westchester brilliantly capturing a 29th of what would be 34 PGA Tour titles.
But then coming down the last handful of holes the following Sunday at Winged Foot, Singh lost it. He began the round tied with Monty on five-under par but fell from contention with bogeys at 13, 15 and 17.
Coming to the last, an uphill hole of then 449-yards that dog-legged left, Singh sent his drive, way left into trees. Monty was slap bang in the middle of the fairway.
Monty, in speaking with National Club Golfer, recalled: “I’ve never seen my caddie Alistair McLean as buoyant as he was there but I hit the fairway. I had a short break on the 18th tee as we watched the group ahead and I hit the right side of the fairway. Left was a bit blocked out sometimes so I was perfect.
“When a hole sets up with the pin on the right side of the green that is my green light. On the left is my red light. So, I was on the right side of the fairway with the pin on the right and the whole green sloping left to right – as a fader, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. A birdie was as likely as a par.”
What next transpired was nothing short of bizarre.
Vijay called out to Monty he was asking for a ruling as his ball had finished up against a hospitality tent. It took close to 10-minutes to get the matter sorted and all the time Monty and caddy are getting more uncertain by the second.
Monty said: “Things went against me in the timing situation. If I had played my second shot in real time I would have won.
“Unfortunately, Vijay Singh hit it silly left off the tee and needed two drops, one to get out of one tent and another to get out of another, and it all took eight or nine minutes.
“I’m not blaming Vijay of course, but if my playing partner had hit the fairway, I think I would have won the U.S. Open.
“That sounds an odd thing to say and people will say your playing partner shouldn’t affect how you play but it does. Whether they are slow or fast you are affected.”
Fourteen years on, the question still to be asked is why didn’t Monty simply respond to Singh saying: “Do you mind if I play up?”
After letting slip victory, Monty exited the Winged Foot scorer’s hut stating: “I switched from a 6 to a 7. I thought adrenaline would kick in. I usually hit the ball ten yards further in that circumstance.
“I caught it slightly heavy and it went slightly right. It was a poor shot, no question about that, and I put myself into poor position.
“This is as difficult as it gets. You wonder sometimes why you put yourself through this. I doubled the last there and Phil (Mickelson) holed a very good putt to double the last.
“The last is a very tricky hole, but it shouldn’t be that tricky from the fairway. I did the hard thing, hit the fairway. That’s my strength normally. I hit the wrong club for my second shot. We put ourselves into poor position after two shots, and then it was difficult from then on because that green is very fast.
“Geoff (Ogilvy) holed a great putt for a par to avoid a four-way playoff there, and all credit to him. He was the last man standing, really. It was the last man in.
“At my age I’ve got to think positively. I’m 43 next week, and it’s nice I can come back to this tournament and do well again, and I look forward to coming back here again next year and try another U.S. Open. Disaster (laughter).”
Monty did return but he missed the cut in the next two U.S. Open’s and was never again a contender in the ensuing 18 Majors the champion Scot would contest up to a lowly finish in his final major, the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
The funny thing is after taking what seemed an eternity, Singh made par at the last.
So too did Ogilvy!