Montgomerie's setback may never really sink in


PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Before the 92nd U.S. Open began last week at Pebble Beach, someone asked Jack Nicklaus what score he thought would win.

"If the wind kicks up, even-par is going to win this tournament," Nicklaus said during a pre-tournament news conference.

Nicklaus, the 1972 Open champion here, made that prediction again yesterday. He was sitting in the ABC booth as Colin Montgomerie was about to putt at 18 to stay even-par.

"If Montgomerie makes the putt, he's going to win the golf tournament," said Nicklaus, who was serving as a commentator after missing the cut.

Later, when Nicklaus saw the 28-year-old Scot who now lives in England, he told him the same thing.

"Jack Nicklaus just congratulated me," said Montgomerie, who was still four shots behind Tom Kite at the time. "He said, 'How does it feel to win your first U.S. Open? Hopefully, he's not premature."

Unfortunately for Montgomerie, who was playing in his first Open, Nicklaus was wrong. Not only didn't Montgomerie win -- Tom Kite did at 3-under 285 -- but he also didn't even finish second. Jeff Sluman came in one shot ahead of him.

Montgomerie, who came into the round at 2-over par, six shots behind third-round leader Gil Morgan, started thinking about the possibility of winning the Open as he approached the par-3 17th.

"I knew if I could make par, I'd stand a good chance," he said. "My goal was to finish in the top 15 to qualify for the Masters and next year's Open. After the round, my goal has changed."

In fact, Montgomerie must have believed Nicklaus. He even asked questions about what it was like to win the Open.

"It's equal [to the British Open]," said Montgomerie, who played collegiately at Houston Baptist. "I mean the one for us is the British Open. But I've always been in awe to win the Masters or the U.S. Open. It will be awhile for it to sink in."

It certainly will.

Question: Did Nicklaus go back and tell Montgomerie that he didn't win it?

* Nick Faldo, who began the round two shots behind Morgan and finished tied for fourth with Nick Price after a 5-over-par 77, said Kite's experience at Pebble Beach certainly helped him yesterday.

"You need local knowledge, I think," said Faldo. "That's where the tour guys have an advantage. They play this course every year. I bet Tom Kite has played 30, 40 competitive rounds here. I've played 10."

* Andy Dillard, the 30-year-old Texan who stayed near the top of the leader board for two rounds, just missed his original goal of finishing in the top 15 to qualify for the Masters. Dillard, who fell out of contention Saturday with a 79, shot 77 yesterday and came in tied for 17. But he did make $18,060.

* Fred Funk, who had started out at 7-over, shot 1-over 73 yesterday and finished tied for 33rd. It wasn't as good as his Open debut at Oakland Hills in 1985, when he finished tied for 23rd, but it was better than the past three years, when he missed the cut. Funk earned $10,531.

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