Colin Montgomerie at the MCB Tour Championship 2013

There is something about Mauritius which makes me think of old-time explorers, ones who came across the island after weeks at sea and were awed by the beautiful beaches, steep mountains and lush trees.

MCB Tour Championship 2013 - Colin Montgomerie tee's off

MCB Tour Championship 2013 – Colin Montgomerie tee’s off

When locals point into those trees at the fruit and spices I can pluck from their branches I genuinely feel like a 16th century traveller, one who might have been awed by the possibilities of trekking inland to discover the local wildlife.

Perhaps that’s why I found myself, on day one of the MCB Tour Championship, excited by the prospect of trailing one of golf’s most famous creatures. No, not the famous golfing Tiger, but an animal whose reputation also goes beyond the game and is built on not only a unique talent, but a personality and facial expressions that are unmistakeably his.

There are plenty of golfers who hide behind wraparound sunglasses and underneath caps. They are rarely excited, rarely reveal their frustrations. Indeed they take great pride in the fact that you cannot tell if they have just made birdie or bogey.

Colin Montgomerie is not one of those golfers.

In fact he has more quirks and idiosyncrasies than entire fields put together. Consider, for example, that habit he has of taking two steps forward in a sentence and one step back – he repeats words like he’s a YouTube video being buffered. It’s extraordinary and uniquely Monty.

He is, as the British say, a bit like Marmite (you either love or hate him). But the fact he inspires passionate responses is good for the game. Better that than 156 automatons standing on the tee.

And on day one at Constance Belle Mare Plage’s Legends course, Monty was, well, not quite in his element (it was too hot for that), but he gave the crowd what they came to see.

He opened with a birdie three at the first hole, but he completed it only after patiently, and with good humour, asking for a few of the fans not to take photos at the wrong moment. On the next tee he repeated the request and laughed: “You don’t want to make my caddie angry.”

Montgomerie & his caddie plan the approach

Montgomerie & his caddie plan the approach

Behind the second green he stopped for a few seconds with fans to watch the deer scurry through the bushes, a peculiarly Christmassy scene in the middle of the Indian Ocean. On the fourth tee he took shade in the trees and joked with the crowds about the boiling temperatures.

It was classic Monty: he’s genuinely quite funny when he interacts with the public, he was also pulling all those over-the-top dramatic facial expressions he likes (and which have a sort of cartoon-like honesty) and his famously languid swing was arrowing the ball at the flag. By the eighth he was five-under-par and leading the tournament.

But on the ninth green he was looking hot and the fact he was distracted by a banging noise coming the clubhouse suggested he was getting bothered. More classic Monty.

On the 13th he hit an approach shot into the trees and followed it with a tee shot on the 14th into the woods. Suddenly it was not Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, but Monty the red faced golfer. (He wasn’t the only one, though – there were red faces everywhere.)

He had chances to recover those dropped shots. But he missed an eight foot birdie putt on the 17th and three-putted from 18 feet having made the par-five final green in two blows.

This is not quite the Monty of old however. He said in the tournament press conference that when the “gun goes off we’re all as competitive as ever”, but he didn’t stomp away from the 18th green this time. His shoulders were slumped, he scrunched his face up and raised his eyebrows in a typically expansive show of bemusement. No-one rushed to ask for his post-round thoughts, but no-one was scared of him either, as they have been in the past.

And he’s only four shots back. He drew the biggest gallery today and is sure to for the rest of the week. It’s still not out of the question that he’ll be in contention come Sunday afternoon – and the back nine on the final day is a habitat Monty is right at home in, even the more cuddly version.

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“On the golf course I have two legs” – An interview with Manuel de los Santos

The annual Dunhill Links Championship is one of the highlights of the European Tour season. It takes place on three great golf courses in and around St Andrews (the home of golf) and it features not only the finest players on tour, but also movie stars, comedians, musicians and sportsmen (plus a handful of businessmen no-one has heard of).

Manuel de los Santos - “On the golf course I have two legs”

Manuel de los Santos

But back in 2009 a very different amateur took part in the event and immediately caught the attention of the watching fans, both on the courses and on television. His name was Manuel de los Santos, he hails from the Dominican Republic and he plays golf with only one leg.

Despite his disability Manuel plays to a handicap of four, thanks to powerful hitting and a delicate touch around the greens.

This week in the run up to the MCB Tour Championship, Manuel has played in both the Air Mauritius Trophy and the Constance Hotels Pro-am, after qualifying via an event in Reunion which he won with his playing partner George Necs.

The prize for that win included transport from Reunion, but Manuel lives in Paris. When MCB and Constance Hotels & Resorts discovered this, they upgraded the prize, a generous offer which has proved popular, not only with the hotel staff – who have followed his group around the course all week – but with locals too.

“It is amazing,” Manuel told me. “I was playing on the Links course and a girl came up to me. She told me that people in the local towns were saying a man plays golf on one leg and so she had to come to see it with her own eyes. I was very pleased to show her!”

It’s pretty clear that Manuel not only inspires other people, but is inspired himself by their interest. And the young girl is not alone: Manuel has many fans across the world, including Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who has given Manuel a 20-minute long-game lesson.

These remarkable encounters were far beyond his imagination ten years ago when, as a promising baseball player, he was hit by a car whilst on his motorbike. Waking from a coma four days later he discovered his left leg had been amputated.

He relocated to Paris with his wife Elena and one night watched the golf movie ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’. Next day he visited a driving range and was hooked: he had found something he could throw his heart into; which offered the prospect of improvement, competition and achievement.

“It also gives me a release,” he said after the first round of the pro-am. “Out on the course, when I am playing golf, I feel peace.”

In addition to travelling the world he competes on the European Disabled Golf Association Tour and hopes one day, like all other disabled golfers, that the sport is included in the Paralympics (there is currently a divergence between disabled golf categories and those of the Paralympic organisation).

He also loves the effect his story has on others. His wife Elena said: “Manuel is very competitive on the golf course, but it is also very important to him to let people know that we can all have our problems and yet all is not lost.”

His latest trip has offered yet more proof of what golf has given him. He and Elena are grateful to MCB and Constance Hotels for the chance to play, but also the opportunity to meet fellow golfers in the tournaments, the staff who have supported him and that young girl who wanted to witness his talent first-hand. “I love golf and I like these courses,” he said, “but those experiences are special.”

Manuel says he has a simple philosophy: “Out on the golf course I have two legs, off it I have one.”

He smiles, shakes my hand and says in farewell: “Remember, my friend – golf is my second leg.”

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Throwing off the fear of winning

Oscar Wilde wrote, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

The stage is set for the MCB Tour Championship 2013

The stage is set for the MCB Tour Championship 2013

It’s an adage the finest players on the European Senior Tour may not be aware of, but might ponder because they are all aware that late in their career they are being rewarded on the course for the many years of hard work that has gone before.

When I asked Colin Montgomerie to determine the difference between his prime and today he was open and forthright, although initially he joked: “Hang on, I’ve forgotten the question … that’s not a good sign, is it?”

More seriously he added, “I think we all relax more. I’m definitely more relaxed now than I’ve ever been. We’ve all been successful and have nothing to prove, so we relax and enjoy it. And you know what? You tend to do something better if you enjoy it.”

Of course Montgomerie had a stunning career which needs little polishing on the senior tours. He won 31 times on the European Tour (only three men have won more), represented Europe eight times in the Ryder Cup and won it as captain in 2010.

He nods when I ask him to discuss about the narrow margin between victory and close defeat.

“It’s a good question and one I have recent experience of at the AT&T Championship in San Antonio.

“What we, as golfers, all have to accept is that you lose a lot more than you win. If you win three times in a year that’s a great year, but you might have played 30 times so you lose quite a bit.

“At senior level I’ve seen a lot less fear of winning and yet there was a fear of winning on the main tour. No-one throws it away out here – we think: ‘We might as well just go and do it.’

“So the standard of play is very high because of that mentality. You can’t rely on others to make bogies, you’ve got to keep making birdies.”

The Legend, Constance Belle Mare Plage

The Legend, Constance Belle Mare Plage

“That’s what happened in San Antonio – I was two ahead with nine to play, played the back nine in level par and was overtaken by two men. Level par on these events is not good enough and it usually was on the main tour.”

David Frost understood Montgomerie’s point: “Definitely the players have lost that fear. I lost out to Russ Cochran recently – I had a lead with four holes to play, he birdied the last four holes and beat me by one shot!

“I also think that we don’t try so many things. When you’re young you try everything and it’s probably too much. When you get here, you use what got you here.”

Denmark’s Steen Tinning agrees: “You stop trying to be a world champion and you understand your limits.

“And once you are in the zone you keep going on the back nine. But it’s a long process which some of us just had to go through that. It takes a lot of years to gain that experience and I needed that time. Now I have it and I felt comfortable in contention this year.”

The stats back the Dane’s claims up – twice this year he held the lead with 18 holes to play and twice he converted the win.

Like the Montgomerie family, the Tinnings are enjoying the beach and all the facilities at Constance Belle Mare Plage this week. Both are hoping to put their lack of fear into practice if they are in contention come the final round on Sunday.

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Miguel Angel Jimenez – an ageless legend of European golf

There was a time when golfers licked their lips at the prospect of senior golf and as he prepared for his debut in the MCB Tour Championship at Constance Belle Mare Plage Colin Montgomerie admitted that he made that “mistake”.

The red wine is waiting for Miguel Angel Jimenez

The red wine is waiting for Miguel Angel Jimenez

“You turn fifty and think you’ll win lots of events,” he said. “But the standard is very high and I underestimated that.”

All of which makes the performances of Miguel Angel Jimenez on the main tour all the more extraordinary. At a time when most players notice their power wane Jimenez has done the opposite, winning 13 of his 20 European Tour titles since he turned 40.

The most recent of those wins came last week in the Hong Kong Open, less than one month shy of his 50th birthday (and qualification for the Senior Tour), which means all of the players in this week’s field have an eye on the Spaniard’s stunning feats.

Montgomerie knows exactly what ‘The Mechanic’ (as he is better known on tour) has achieved.

“All credit to him to be winning as he turns fifty on the European Tour,” said the Scot. “It’s something I tried to do – and failed – so I realise what he’s done. And it’s also tremendous that he has come back from a skiing injury earlier this year too. That’s tough at any age never mind fifty.”

The latter point prompted Steen Tinning to point out that Jimenez is “sneaky fit“. “Trust me,” said the Dane. “We all know about the red wine and the cigars, but he does his stuff in the fitness centre. He might not look fit, but he is.”

What amazes the world of golf is that the Malaga native’s early career gave no hint at what was to come. Roger Chapman remembers his entrance in the early-1990s: “He was a good player, but he was just that – another good Spanish player and there are lots of them. Not many achieve what he has done.”

So what turned a solid tour pro into a multiple winner with four Ryder Cup appearances? Perhaps the Ryder Cup holds the key because in 1997 many in the sport raised eyebrows when Seve Ballesteros made Jimenez a vice-captain.

He not only helped the team to victory, but was inspired by the experience to become an actor in the production rather than a scene shifter, something Montgomerie appreciates more than most: “I captained the team in 2010 and when we were struggling in the final day singles Miguel came up trumps for me. He was the oldest player in a team of major winners. He’s very good. Very few people improve in their 40s, but he’s one.”

The Ryder Cup remains a motivation. After victory in Hong Kong he was asked about his future on the Senior Tour and said: “If I play the way I am playing this week I will be in the Ryder Cup. I would love to be part of the team again.”

If he does gain selection he will become Europe’s oldest ever Ryder Cup performer. If not the Senior Tour players, currently practising on the Legends course ahead of Friday’s first round, have red wine ready and waiting for him.

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Win a bottle of wine – share photos on Instagram or Twitter

If you’re attending the MCB Tour Championship this year, and staying at Constance Belle Mare Plage or Le Prince Maurice, share your photos of the event on Instagram and Twitter using #constancehotels and you could win a bottle of wine.

Links golf course

Share your golf event photos on Instagram & Twitter

From Wednesday 11 December to Sunday 15 December, we’ll choose one winner a day from the photos that have been shared – if your photo is chosen, you’ll win a bottle of wine to enjoy during dinner at your hotel, whether you’re staying at Constance Belle Mare Plage or Le Prince Maurice.

Winners will be announced daily on our Facebook page and Twitter.

We’ll also repost a selection of our favourite photos onto our Constance Hotels & Resorts Instagram feed from those that have been shared during the week using #constancehotels. Please read the competition Terms and conditions before entering.

MCB Tour Championship 2013

The MCB Tour Championship is being played on the beautiful Legend course at Constance Belle Mare Plage from 9-15 December.

Follow the action

Golf journalist Matt Cooper is reporting on all the action here on our blog and on the MCB Tournament website

Visit us on Instagram for photos from the event – #mcbgolf, #constancehotels – or on Twitter @constancehotels.

 

How the top golfers have played in the European Senior Tour season so far

Players have been arriving at Constance Belle Mare Plage over the last few days, in readiness for the conclusion of the 2013 European Senior Tour season.

The MCB Tour Championship, which is staged at the resort’s Legends GC, will be the 16th event of the year. Here’s the story of the Road to Mauritius:

The headliner is England’s Paul Wesselingh, who was Rookie of the Year in 2012, and currently leads the Order of Merit after three stunning victories in his second year. He started off with a five-shot win in the ISPS HANDA PGA Seniors Championship in June, added the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open in July and snatched top spot in the money list with victory in last month’s Fubon Senior Open in Taiwan.

Fellow Englishman Simon P Brown has bagged two wins. His first, the Russian Open Senior Golf Championship, came after he recorded a bogey, double bogey and three birdies in a wild final five holes. If that win was rollercoaster-like, his second was an armchair ride, with the final day of the Dutch Senior Open being washed out and Brown crowned champion watching the rain fall in the clubhouse.

Steen Tinning leads Brown in the race to become Rookie of the Year, following victories in the Berenberg Masters in Koln (when he broke the hearts of the locals to defeat Bernhard Langer) and the English Senior Open. The Dane has also competed in this year’s European Ironman Championship, proving the adage that you’re only as old as you feel.

Poolside tee off - Colin Montgomerie entertains the crowds at Constance Belle Mare Plage

Poolside tee off – Colin Montgomerie entertains the crowds at Constance Belle Mare Plage

The majors have been a curious affair. American Kenny Perry made a habit of throwing away major championship wins on the main tour and did so again in May’s US Senior PGA Championship. That allowed the wonderfully named Kohki Idoki to become Japan’s first ever winner of a male major championship.

Perry made amends in June, claiming the US Senior Open Championship, before the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex witnessed the most remarkable finish of the year. Unheralded American Mark Wiebe defeated Bernhard Langer in a bizarre play-off at Royal Birkdale which started in the dark, was halted in pitch dark and was concluded early next morning.

Of all those mentioned above only Wesselingh had previously claimed victory on this tour and the pattern of maiden winners continued all year. England’s Philip Golding denied home favourite Ian Woosnam in the Speedy Services Wales Senior Open at Royal Porthcawl (host of next year’s Senior Open) and Spain’s Santiago Luna, who once famously defeated Tiger Woods at St Andrews, returned to the old town and left with the SSE Scottish Senior Open trophy.

But the most noteworthy of all was Colin Montgomerie’s first senior win in the Travis Perkins plc Senior Open. Playing on one of his favourite courses, the Duke’s at Woburn, he cruised to a six-shot victory.

There were comeback wins for Gordon Brand Jr in the WINSTONgolf Senior Open (his first for three years) and Australian Peter Fowler in the French Riviera Masters (who hadn’t won since claiming the 2011 Order of Merit).

To launch the week the leading performers hit balls from the poolside at Belle Mare Plage towards the island out at sea. Colin Montgomerie entertained the assembled crowd and they’re hoping he’ll be doing the same in the main event which starts on Friday. Follow #MCBGolf on social media to find out more.

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