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Montgomerie Shoots for Second Best

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Colin Montgomerie's career was at a crossroads in May when he slipped to No. 38 in the world ranking, his lowest position in 10 years. He considers his return to No. 10 an impressive achievement.
'I'm back where I feel I should be,' he said Wednesday.
Where does Montgomerie go from there?
'Forward,' he replied.
How far?
'Number 2,' he said.
Motivation isn't the problem. Even at age 39, three years removed from the last of his record seven consecutive money titles on the European tour, Montgomerie believes he still has the game and the desire to contend every time he plays.
It's that other guy ' Tiger Woods ' keeping him realistic.
Montgomerie wasn't just being gracious to the host of the Target World Challenge, which starts Thursday at Sherwood Country Club and features 16 world-class players.
He was being realistic.
Montgomerie doesn't have the game to catch Woods in the world ranking, and he's not sure anyone else does, either.
Phil Mickelson is currently No. 2, although it is virtually impossible for Lefty to catch Woods in the world ranking next year or the year after.
Right behind is Ernie Els. Montgomerie gives him higher marks, if only because the Big Easy is coming off an eight-stroke victory in South Africa.
'If Tiger still has the commitment to keep going and the desire, it's going to be very difficult for anybody,' the Scot said.
Montgomerie would have no qualms with being No. 2, not like he did seven years ago when he pushed Greg Norman and came close on a few occasions to overtaking him.
'Now if you're the second-best golfer in the world, it's not bad, considering who's No. 1,' Montgomerie said.
He'll get a crack at Woods this week in a $3.8 million tournament that marks the end of the silly season.
Along with being the host, Woods also is the defending champion. A year ago, he closed with a 64 and made up a four-stroke deficit against Vijay Singh on the back nine to win by three strokes.
Woods faces an elite field that features eight of the top 10 in the world ranking ' only Els and Sergio Garcia are missing ' and 14 of the top 20.
'You're competing not only for a lot of money, but you're also playing against some of the best players in the world,' Woods said.
This is Montgomerie's first trip to California since the Match Play Championship at La Costa in late February, when he was beaten in the first round and vowed never to return to America because of what he perceived to be heckling.
He has put that behind him, and now says he is getting more confident and more comfortable in the United States, which can only lead to good things.
'Hopefully, a major might just come around,' he said.
Montgomerie for years was considered the best player not to win a major, although he says Mickelson now deserves that label more than him.
'I always felt it was quite an accolade, that,' he said. 'Because obviously, it's better than being the second-best to not win a major. He's probably overtaken me now. We've both been at it for quite a time.'
Montgomerie is gearing up for four more chances at the majors next year.
His official season ended in controversy when he and Bernhard Langer decided to share the title in the Volvo Masters when it became too dark to continue their playoff. He also counts the Ryder Cup as a victory, which he should, because Montgomerie was the only player unbeaten in five matches.
Since then, he has changed equipment to the Hogan Apex Tour golf ball, and will go to Texas on Monday to start working on the Hogan irons.
He won't start playing golf again until either the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines or the Nissan Open at Riviera, giving him time to prepare for the Match Play Championship.
Montgomerie has never won an official tournament in the United States, which Tony Jacklin recently called one of the great mysteries of golf.
It's really no secret. Unlike other Europeans, such as Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal or Langer, Montgomerie has never played a full PGA Tour schedule.
And he's not about to now.
'The need to play over here full-time now has disappeared because we play these tournaments anyway,' he said, alluding to the BellSouth Classic, The Players Championships and other events considered European tuneups for the majors.
Montgomerie believes the gap between the PGA Tour and PGA European Tour has closed significantly in the last 10 years, and he points to the Ryder Cup as an example.
Europe has won the cup in six of the last nine matches, and stunned a heavily favored U.S. team at The Belfry in September by winning 15 1/2 -12 1/2 .
'There was a time where 30th place in America was a lot stronger than 30th place in Europe,' he said. 'Now, I think that gap has closed, and it's closing all over the world.'
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