Thu, Dec 26, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Monty and the best of all worlds

ROSE GARDEN England's top golfer is a laughing stock in the US, where he is known for choking and being the object of derision. Other men might care, but Colin Montgomerie says life couldn't be better for him now

REUTERS , LONDON

Seven-times European No. 1 Colin Montgomerie hits from a bunker during the Volvo Masters at Valderrama last month. The 39-year-old Scot says that he is happier than ever, despite failing in the US.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Colin Montgomerie says he is not ready for the carpet slippers and pipe just yet but is determined the world will see a far more laidback golfer treading the fairways next year.

Life, he insists, really is just beginning for him at 40 -- he will hit the landmark in June -- and he says he has never looked ahead to a new season with more relish.

"Everything in the garden is rosy," the big Scot said at a sponsorship launch in London last week.

"I've got a deal for a new brand of clubs, I'm fit, the family's fine, I'm playing well and I'm off on holiday soon to Barbados. And I won't be taking the clubs. My wife would kill me.

"I've never looked forward more to a season. I guess I don't feel I have everything to prove any more. I feel very relaxed -- even if I'm not ready for slippers and pipe just yet."

A new super cool, easy-going Monty is emerging, it would seem.

As any seasoned golf watcher, not to mention a collection of ex-caddies with badly singed ears as well as his own family, will tell you, it was not ever thus with the complex Montgomerie.

If a man's character is reflected in his golf swing, then Monty is the exception that proves the rule.

He can split any fairway in the world with an unhurried, almost carefree swish of his driver but at crucial times in his 15-year professional career a cool head to match has been miserably lacking.

At the British Open this year, for instance, he was reduced to little more than a gibbering wreck in a third-round collapse after playing into contention at Muirfield.

Short fuse

He later told the media he could stand the pressure no more and would be pulling out of the following fortnight's tournaments. Typically, he later cooled down and reversed this decision.

American fans, who realized very early in Montgomerie's career that here was a serious threat to their own players but a man on an extremely short fuse, have been merciless in their baiting of him.

On one famous occasion, as Montgomerie stood on the tee, an inebriated fan yelled, "Hey, Monty, Monty!" Montgomerie ignored him for three or four minutes as the man tried to attract his attention but finally turned around. "Nice breasts, man!" came the gleeful punchline.

The gallery collapsed in mirth and Monty, face like thunder, skewered his drive into the thick rough. Another tournament was suddenly beyond his reach.

Perversely, Montgomerie has been able somehow to convert this animus into successively stunning Ryder Cup performances, notably during Europe's victorious challenge in September at The Belfry where he left everybody -- including Tiger Woods -- in his slipstream with four-and-a-half out of a possible five points.

Demonic possession

Yet despite two runners-up spots in the US Open and one in the US PGA, the demons inside and outside Monty's head have prevented him fulfilling his immense talents in the four major tournaments by which a golfer's achievements are ultimately gauged.

As chronicled in his often uncomfortably honest autobiography, Monty became impossible to live with as the pressure of staying top dog on his home tour grew year after year and finally his wife Eimear kicked him out of the family home in 2000.

"To say that I was shattered is an understatement," he said in his autobiography, The Real Monty. "I felt that everything I had done, everything I had achieved just fell through the floor. I cried a lot behind that [hotel] door, it was a bad, bad time. I felt a failure, immediately. "And I felt that my whole life had just come to a complete grinding halt."

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