A silent aircraft sat on the runway at Ireland's Waterford
Regional Airport, the pilot anxious to start its prop engines.
Sitting forlornly on the airplane's steps, impatiently checking
his gold Ebel watch and still trying to get over what had just
happened to him in the recent Irish Open, was Colin Montgomerie.
The burly Scot had chartered the flight home to England and
offered a lift to his Surrey neighbor Sam Torrance. If the day
had gone according to plan, Montgomerie would have held on to
his third-round lead at Mount Juliet, then jumped into the plane
and whooshed home to the suburbs south of London to celebrate
with his wife, Eimear, and two-year-old daughter, Olivia. But
Montgomerie stumbled home in 73 to finish fourth, and now he was
stuck waiting for the winner, ironically the hitchhiking
Torrance, who had hands to shake and a trophy to collect. "I
told Sam I'd wait for him," Montgomerie explained later, trying
his best to smile. "I didn't realize how long I'd have to wait."
On the eve of this week's Open Championship at St. Andrews,
Montgomerie was still waiting--not for Sam Torrance, but for his
own moment in the sun. Corey Pavin's victory in the U.S. Open
bestowed upon Montgomerie golf's most detested title:
highest-ranked player never to have won a major.
In the final tune-up for St. Andrews, Montgomerie finished
third in the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, four strokes behind
Wayne Riley of Australia and two back of Nick Faldo. Fourth- and
third-place finishes going into a major would be taken as a
positive sign by most players. Not Monty. To him they indicated
an inability to close the deal, to finish strongly, to win.
"I decided to throw the Irish Open down the pan when I got
home," Montgomerie said before play began at Carnoustie. "I
threw the suitcase down, threw my clothes out and was thoroughly
obnoxious. I had that championship to lose, and I lost it."
Obnoxious behavior has long been associated with Montgomerie,
and there were moments at Carnoustie when his boorishness came
shining through, particularly during the final two rounds when
he could not make a putt of consequence as his chance at
becoming the first Scotsman to win the country's national open
slipped away. "I'm hitting the ball well enough to win next
week, that's obvious, but my putting is desperate, to say the
least," Montgomerie said after a final round of 70. "You can't
win tournaments doing that. You can't even finish second."
Actually, the end had come the day before during a summer
rainstorm. Tied for the lead at the halfway point, Montgomerie
took 36 putts and shot 75 to drop six strokes behind Riley, a
journeyman who had not won in 12 years on the European circuit.
This was not the type of golf expected from "Europe's No.
1"--not by a long shot. Although he trails Faldo by five spots
in the Sony Ranking, the eighth-rated Montgomerie topped the
European money list in 1993 and 1994 and has become one of that
tour's biggest names. But to himself, he has been a big
disappointment. The Scottish Open was Montgomerie's fifth real
chance to win since his last victory, in August 1994 at the
German Open. The frustration showed during interviews after the
"I two-putted every green--every green," Montgomerie said,
contemptuously spitting out the words. "The third round is the
most important round, and I've blown it again. This is the most
disappointing day I've ever had on a golf course. Seventy-five
Montgomerie was particularly displeased by the bogey he made at
the par-5 18th. His three-wood from 219 yards faded into the
Barry Burn. To make matters worse, it wasn't until Montgomerie
had stalked over the stone bridge near the green that he was
informed of the fate of his ball by a rules official, whose job
it then was to indicate the ball's point of entry into the
hazard. "All right, hurry up, hurry up, I'm in no mood,"
Montgomerie barked as he stormed back over the bridge, dropped a
new ball, chipped on and two-putted for the offending 6. "I
finished out in style," he said sarcastically before stomping
away from reporters. No one dared to follow.
Until then, things had gone quite well. Montgomerie opened at
Carnoustie with eight birdies and a 64, which tied the course
record. He reached nine under after 40 holes, but double-bogeyed
the 5th and followed with a silly bogey at the par-5 6th when
his three-wood second sliced into gorse near the green. An
extensive search of the pricklers produced five balls before a
spectator found Montgomerie's Titleist. He went on to make three
birdies and a 71.
After the round, Montgomerie went out of his way to praise the
helpful fan. "He went in there with only a T-shirt," said
Montgomerie. "I think he drew blood. He saved me at least a
shot. I didn't get his name, but I am truly grateful."
This was the reinvented Montgomerie speaking, the man who went
on a public-relations campaign to change his image as a
petulant, spoiled rich kid. It wasn't just the notorious London
tabloids that dogged him. After Golf Digest painted an
unflattering picture of "Big Bad Monty" in a 1994 profile that
dredged up all the dirt about his storming off golf courses
hither and yon, starting at age 16 in the Scottish Boys'
Championships, Montgomerie made a conscious effort to cease
being the "big bairn," or baby, as the Scots called him.
"That is easier said than done," he says. "But in my defense, I
would say that I was never being anything else except too hard
on myself. I know there were certain cases when my behavior came
across as unacceptable. You could say that I have a face full of
expression. And when I hit a bad shot or play a bad round, I
think you'd guess as much from looking at me. I think it shows
that I'm human. The fact is that I have a fantastic desire to
Writers have been especially cruel when describing Montgomerie's
physique. With a full head of wiry blond hair and a body that
could stand a trip to Jenny Craig, the 6'1", 240-pound
Montgomerie has often been called the Little Lard Fauntleroy of
the links. When he shows up in dark clothing, he is routinely
likened to a pint of Murphy's Irish Stout. His girth explains
why he prefers a sweater when others are in polo shirts--to
canvas the excess baggage.
Montgomerie's weight problem was apparent during last year's
U.S. Open at sweltering Oakmont, where he was beet-faced and
sopping wet after shooting 78 in a playoff loss to Ernie Els.
David Leadbetter, Faldo's swing coach, suggested that
Montgomerie's weight had affected his play. Montgomerie
bristled. "I am happy with myself the way I am" was his response.
Although their fitness habits differ, Faldo and Montgomerie are
friendly rivals. Both are loners and highly demanding of
themselves. They were compatible partners in the 1993 Ryder Cup,
during which they won 2-1/2 points, and will almost certainly be
paired again this September when the matches are played at Oak
Hill. Montgomerie knows why the pairing is effective. When a
reporter struggled to pose a question about their success as a
team, Montgomerie helped out. "Do you mean it's because we're
both buggers?" he said, using the British term for jerks.
Montgomerie is an easy target among his peers. David Feherty,
the sharp-witted Irishman, once described Montgomerie's face as
"that of a warthog after it bit a wasp." But he and Montgomerie
get on fine. "Some people may give you the impression that they
don't like him, but he's good value," Feherty says. "He says
some daft things at times, and he's kind of honest in a naive
sort of way. I'm not sure if it's such a good idea changing his
image. I kind of like his image. He's Monty. People used to
complain about McEnroe in the '70s when he was throwing
tantrums, but where is he now when tennis needs him? With Monty,
what you see is what you get, and you see a lot."
Born in Glasgow, raised in Yorkshire, England, and educated at
Baptist University in Houston, Montgomerie wants desperately to
be accepted by his Scottish people. That will be difficult, he
admits, because of his patrician accent, his private-school
rearing and his father's position as secretary at Royal Troon,
one of the country's elite golf clubs. The Scots are a
no-nonsense people quick to pick up on quirks of character, real
or perceived. The old Monty provided plenty of ammunition for
their sarcasm. He hopes the new Monty has won them over. "I
think in the past I tried too hard," he says. "Now, if there is
such a thing, I'm trying easy."
In the final round of the 1992 Scottish Open at Gleneagles,
Montgomerie was still trying too hard. He showed up wearing the
Saltire, the St. Andrews flag, emblazoned across a blue sweater.
"I realized on the 1st tee what a big chance I was taking," he
says. Although Montgomerie played well enough to win, shooting
65, Australian Peter O'Malley played the last five holes in
seven under and won.
So Montgomerie has been unlucky, although that was not the case
in this month's Irish and Scottish Opens--or at the English Open
earlier in the year, when he shot a course-record 63 in the
second round to lead by three, yet eventually lost in a playoff
to Philip Walton.
Coping with the enormous pressure last week at Carnoustie was
difficult. Montgomerie wanted the Scottish Open title almost as
much as a major. Despite his abrasiveness, he has become "Our
Monty," the best golfer in a country desperately looking for a
champion. Sandy Lyle, who won the British Open in 1985 and the
Masters in 1988, is once again showing signs of life. Torrance,
the warhorse who will qualify for his eighth consecutive Ryder
Cup team, has never won a major. Until 6'8" British Amateur
champion Gordon Sherry, who finished fifth at Carnoustie, 10
shots better than Tiger Woods, graduates from Stirling
University, Scotland's best hope remains Montgomerie. "As I keep
improving, the support increases and the expectations increase,"
he says. "There are a few who have bet quite a bit of money on
me as well."
At 10-to-1 odds, Montgomerie certainly appeared to be a good bet
for St. Andrews, and as the Scottish Open came to an end, the
punters were laying their pounds on him in the William Hill tent
at Carnoustie. Montgomerie hardly noticed. He packed up his
disappointment and headed straight to the practice green at the
Old Course 20 miles down the road. There was work to do.
"I have nothing else to do now for four days apart from putt,"
he said, for once looking forward to the wait. "I'll putt and
I'll putt and I'll putt. I'll putt until dark."
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN [Colin Montgomerie]
COLOR PHOTO: GARY PRIOR This close call looked hazardous to Woods (left) and Montgomerie. [Tiger Woods and Colin Montgomerie looking at golf balls in sand trap]
COLOR PHOTO: LANE STEWART A four-time winner Down Under, Riley finally came out on top in Europe. [Wayne Riley]COLOR PHOTO: DAVID CANNON/ALLSPORT The 6'8" Sherry is looming large on the Scottish golf scene.[Gordon Sherry walking with his arms raised in celebration]