Couples is out, but Montgomerie is in for Encompass tourney

This week’s second Encompass Championship at North Shore Country Club has two major differences from the first staging as far as the 81-player field is concerned.

Fred Couples, last year’s runner-up, won’t be there when play begins on Friday at the Glenview course but Colin Montgomerie will. Though Couples is one of the most popular players on the Champions Tour, the tradeoff seems a fair one.

Couples has a sore back and hasn’t played in a tournament since May 18 – the Regions Tradition, a Champions Tour major that was won by Kenny Perry. Montgomerie, meanwhile, won the 50-and-over circuit’s last major title – and captured his first victory of any kind in the United States – at the Senior PGA Championship three weeks ago in Benton Harbor, Mich.

“That definitely gives you huge confidence,’’ said Montgomerie. “It was a long time coming – 23 years and 130-odd tournaments without a win in the U.S. It was nice getting that monkey off my back.’’

Montgomerie was a long-time U.S. nemesis while playing for Europe in the Ryder Cup matches. The Scottish golfer didn’t play in the Champions Tour’s last stop — the Legends Championship, a two-man team event played in Branson, Mo. Jeff Sluman and Fred Funk won that title, and both will play at North Shore.

Last week Montgomerie worked as a TV commentator at the U.S. Open. No longer is he the sometimes misunderstood European player who irritated American galleries in his younger days.

“You do mellow with age and mature,’’ Montgomerie said. “I love the American way of life. I hope that’s coming across. It’s given me a new lease on life.’’

Montgomerie couldn’t play in last year’s Encompass tourney because he hadn’t turned 50 yet. He’s happy to make his debut this year in part because tournament director Mike Galeski is a long-time friend. They worked together for equipment manufacturer Callaway when Montgomerie started playing tournaments in the U.S.

The last time Montgomerie competed in Chicago was at the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah. He was also at Medinah for the 2012 Ryder Cup, won dramatically by the Europeans with a huge comeback on the last day.

“We called it the `Miracle of Medinah,’ and we still do,’’ said Montgomerie. “I don’t know how we won that one.’’

They’ll be here

Montgomerie is one of seven players in the Encompass field to win on the Champions Tour this year. In addition to the Funk-Sluman team that won the Legends event, the others are Bernhard Langer (the circuit’s only winner of multiple tournaments in 2014), Michael Allen, Kirk Triplett and Perry, who tied for 28th playing against much younger players in the U.S. Open. Perry, 53, was the oldest player in the field at Pinehurst.

The Encompass field is a solid one. Fifty-six of the 81 starters have accounted for 370 victories in PGA Tour events. Forty-six have won a combined 252 titles on the Champions Tour. Eighteen have combined for 27 major titles on the PGA Tour and 23 have been responsible for 43 victories in the Champions Tour’s majors. Six are former Ryder Cup captains.

A $1.8 million prize fund will be on the line in the 54-hole event that pays $270,000 to Sunday’s champion. Last year’s winner was Craig Stadler. He’s ben hampered by injuries most of this year but teamed with Triplett for a third-place finish at the Legends event.

Here and there

Chicago players came up empty in Monday’s Encompass qualifying round at Deerfield Golf Club. Out-of-staters Joel Edwards, Bruce Vaughan and Jim Carter shot 6-under-par 66s and Patrick Horgan shot 67, then won the fourth and last berth in the field in a three-man playoff. That foursome completes the 81-man field for the tournament and all 81 will have an amateur partner in the first two rounds.

The 95th Chicago District Golf Assn. Amateur will begin its four-day run on Monday at Hinsdale Golf Club in Clarendon Hills – the site of the CDGA’s founding 100 years ago. There’s no defending champion since Bryce Emory, last year’s winner, has turned professional. Only past winner in the 73-man field is Steve Sawtell, who won in 2004 and 2009. The field will compete over 36 holes in stroke play on Monday to determine 16 qualifiers for the match play portion of the event. The 36-hole final is on June 26.

Construction has begun on the University of Illinois’ 24-acre Lauritsen/Wohler Outdoor Practice Facility, which is adjacent to the J.G. Demirjian Indoor facility in Urbana. Illini men’s coach Mike Small and PGA star Steve Stricker designed the $2 million outdoor facility, which is expected to open on Aug. 1. It was inspired by a similar one at Augusta National, the Georgia site of the Masters tournament.