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COMMENTARY

Great Scot! It's Time to Give Monty a Break

March 15, 1998|RON SIRAK | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Give Colin Montgomerie a break. The outspoken Scotsman is the whipping boy of American golf fans mostly because, well, he's outspoken. How about that for irony?

Fewer athletes talk--particularly when they become rich--and here's one of the best taking his lumps because he speaks his mind.

"I don't think it's right to be false and be accepted that way," Montgomerie said last week at Doral. "I think I am who I am, hopefully, and that's the way it is."

Montgomerie said at the Ryder Cup that Valderrama didn't suit Tiger Woods' game. Anyone want to argue with that assessment?

He said any of the 12 Europeans could beat Woods.

Shouldn't he feel that way and didn't Costantino Rocca--who was working in a box factory when he was Tiger's age--defeat Woods in singles play on Sunday?

Montgomerie said Brad Faxon was distracted by his divorce. That was not a delicate observation, but Faxon's play proved it accurate.

"I have an opinion about things," Montgomerie said last week. "I have aired them in the past and I'll air them in the future."

Maybe the U.S. team needed the same kind of verbal leader.

"Europe won the Ryder Cup because their young players played better than our young players," said a confidant of one of the young Americans.

Perhaps Montgomerie helped lift the confidence of his young teammates.

True, when things are not going well, Montgomerie does come off as a whiner. But he cares. What's wrong with that? Caring is a huge part of the complicated mix that makes up a champion.

Woods frequently draws gasps from his gallery when he bangs a club off the ground or yells an obscenity. At times, Woods reacts to an iron shot that lands 25 feet from the hole as if he has just hit the worst shot imaginable.

Yet it is all seen as part of his passion.

Let Montgomerie express dissatisfaction and he is called a crybaby. It is as if people go out of their way to slam him.

Montgomerie was greeted at Doral by an article in Sports Illustrated that called him "the Goon from Troon, golf's Gael-force windbag" and said "many fans see the pasty Scot as a firth-class jerk."

He was more baffled at the attack than angry or hurt.

At 34, Montgomerie is at the peak of his game, leading the European Tour money list for a record five consecutive years.

Since 1992, he has two seconds, a third and a 10th in the U.S. Open and a second in the PGA Championship, losing both the PGA and the U.S. Open in playoffs. The misconception is that Montgomerie blew those majors.

Tom Kite won the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach with one of the great bad-weather closing rounds.

Montgomerie made birdies on the last three holes and shot a final-round 65 at Riviera to make the playoff with Steve Elkington in the 1995 PGA and lost to a 20-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole.

He was runner-up to Ernie Els last year in the U.S. Open at Congressional because Els hit a perfect 5-iron to an extremely difficult pin on the next-to-last hole.

"You put that down to nerves and not my ball flight," Montgomerie said about his approach to the same pin that drifted right, setting up a fatal bogey.

How refreshingly honest. He admitted he was nervous.

Montgomerie shot a 69 in the final round at Congressional and his 70.92 scoring average in the U.S. Open is second only to the 70.32 by Els in this decade. In six U.S. Opens, Montgomerie's final rounds have been two 68s, a 69, two 70s and a 72

Only in the playoff at Oakmont with Els and Loren Roberts in the 1994 U.S. Open, when Montgomerie shot a 42 on the front nine, was he not up to the pressure of the day.

Montgomerie is 0-for-45 in PGA Tour events. But the nine times he led or was within five strokes of the lead going to the final round he averaged 70.11 and never shot higher than 72.

"My goal this year as it has been every time I've come over here is to win a PGA Tour event," Montgomerie said.

"I think I have to say that in complete fairness that the competition is stiffer here," he said about not winning yet in America.

Well put, Monty.

"From the crowds to the way that the whole thing is run, it's a fabulous, fabulous tour you have here," Montgomerie said. "And hopefully people realize that."

And Colin Montgomerie is an excellent golfer who is not a bad guy.

Hopefully people realize that, too.

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