Montgomerie swinging for major breakthrough

Scot would be right at home at Carnoustie

July 15, 1999|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- He is the golfer Americans love to hate. He is an annoying mix of pouty and brash.

Even when Colin Montgomerie breaks into a smile, it looks as if the edges of his mouth are fighting the permanent frown that seems creased into his face.

Yet there would be no better winner at this week's British Open at Carnoustie than Montgomerie. The site of the dour Scot holding the Claret Jug on his native soil might even warm the heart of his harshest detractors.

Probably not.

It's hard to root for Montgomerie. But then again, if you have an appreciation for golf, it is hard not to.

Nobody wants to win a major more than Montgomerie. Nobody also faces more pressure here than Montgomerie.

A few more years of failure, and Montgomerie, 36, could go down as the best player to never win a major. The local hero also has a dreadful record in the British Open, missing the cut in five of the last seven years.

When asked if he felt any extra pressure this week, Montgomerie said: "No, not really. The amount of pressure I put on myself is enough, so there is no added pressure."

Then Montgomerie must be feeling enough pressure to bust a valve. Look for it to show on the course.

Montgomerie always has the sour look of a person who was served a piece of bad haggis, a local dish involving sheep innards -- is there a piece of good haggis? -- and Americans added to his grumpiness by heckling him at the 1997 and 1998 U.S. Opens.

There was reason even if the behavior wasn't justified. Off the course, Montgomerie can come off as arrogant, snappish and too frank for his own good.

Before the 1997 Ryder Cup, Montgomerie was tactless when he said that Brad Faxon wouldn't be on top of his game because he was going through a divorce. The comment was woefully out of place considering Faxon didn't need to be reminded that he was experiencing a painful time.

"Monty is a few french fries short of a Happy Meal," said Dave Feherty, a European Ryder Cup member and now a CBS analyst. "His mind goes on vacation and leaves his mouth in charge."

Another typical Montgomerie exchange took place at the 1998 U.S. Open. Jim Murray, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times, asked Montgomerie why he was so successful.

Montgomerie smugly looked at Murray and said: "Well, I'm very good."

After an awkward moment, Murray came back with the perfect retort. "Congratulations," he said.

At the very least, Montgomerie never is dull and always compelling. Especially as a player.

Montgomerie has been Europe's best player during the 1990s. He is deadly straight off the tee, which will be a huge asset this week on Carnoustie's 3-inch wide fairways.

To use his own words, he is very good. But Montgomerie hasn't been quite good enough to win a major.

Montgomerie lost a U.S. Open playoff to Ernie Els in 1994. He fell again in a playoff to Steve Elkington at the 1995 PGA Championship. The emotion swelled down the stretch at the 1997 U.S. Open. He missed a key par putt on the 17th hole, as he lost the title again to Els.

Afterward, Montgomerie was shown crying on his wife's shoulders. He admitted that "this major thing is getting to me."

Montgomerie comes into this Open with some momentum. He won the Loch Lomond Open last week in Glasgow, his first victory ever in Scotland.

He fired a 64 in the final round to get past young sensation Sergio Garcia. His irons were so sharp that he rarely had a long birdie putt.

Montgomerie knows what he can do at Carnoustie. He holds the course record of 64. Although the mark is safe with the brutal setup, Montgomerie is well-suited to handle the conditions.

It would be a dream for Montgomerie to win an Open in Scotland, but he added: "It would be a dream to win any major."

Montgomerie doesn't care when it happens or where. He just wants one major title to make his career complete.

He minces no words. Noting that the last European winner in a British Open was Nick Faldo in 1992, Montgomerie was asked if the continent was overdue.

"We are well overdue," he said. "Especially for a Scottish winner, especially for my win."

Like him or not, there's no beating the truth.

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