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Original Issue


Everything seemed in place for what the buoyant people of the
Emerald Isle might call a bit of craic last week at the Irish
Open. The setting was in the middle of an explosion of color, in
a region south of Dublin known as the Garden of Ireland, at a
run-on sentence of a village called Newtownmountkennedy. The
golf course, Druids Glen, although only a year old, wends its
way through an ancient forest that conjures up a cauldronful of
romantic images. The sponsor was Murphy's, the maker of a stout
that has the look of a root-beer float. And of course there was
sly Irish humor everywhere, starting with favorite son David
Feherty, who reported that "things are great. I've been married
a month...and people said it wouldn't last."

Unfortunately, craic--Gaelic for fun and games--isn't an
automatic on the PGA European Tour. Golf courses tend toward the
funky, and so does the weather. Crowds are often thin, and
fields even thinner. This year, unlike the past two, Murphy's
chose not to pay big appearance money for drawing cards like
John Daly or Greg Norman. Crowds in Newtownmountkennedy were
respectable, although somewhat diminished by the docking off
Dublin Bay of the largest nonnuclear aircraft carrier in the
world, the USS JFK. While Druids Glen was mostly bathed in
sun-streaked vistas that could have been lifted from The Quiet
Man, play was interrupted by hail--twice--with players coming to
the uphill 18th looking like the survivors of a shipwreck in the
Irish Sea. Finally, a course set up to put a premium on par drew
criticism for its length, its rough around the greens and the
amount of sand in its bunkers. By the time Andrew Oldcorn of
Scotland three-putted the 72nd hole for a nightmare double-bogey
6 to lose by a stroke to Colin Montgomerie, the grimness meter
had hit the red line.

But Montgomerie does grim very well. The 33-year-old Scot lorded
over the proceedings like a Victorian aristocrat calling for his
private carriage. With his blond curls, fleshy patrician face,
splotchy complexion, down-turned mouth and high-pitched voice,
Montgomerie is a near caricature of a British blue blood, with
central casting needing only to supply the powdered wig.
Montgomerie also suffers from smart-kid syndrome--he's verbal,
perceptive and too often rude. European writers rate him as one
of the most acute interviewees in golf, but the most common
adjectives they use to describe him are impatient, imperious,
dismissive, condescending and sarcastic.

At Druids Glen, Montgomerie glared at noisy spectators and
lectured photographers, criticized his fellow players for
criticizing the course, then criticized the officials for not
dealing expeditiously with the threat of lightning. Lately,
Montgomerie has been in danger of crossing the line. At last
month's U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, his behavior reached a
nadir. Within a stroke of the lead when he reached the par-3
13th in the final round, Montgomerie bounced his tee shot into
heavy greenside rough, which led to a killing double bogey. He
went into a glowering pout, and two holes later, when a fan
offered encouragement, he responded with a resounding "F---
off!" The next day he was called the "insufferable Scot" in the
Detroit News.

He improved only marginally at Druids Glen. On the first green
on Saturday he spotted a spectator violating tournament rules by
carrying a camera and said, "Put your camera back in your
pocket, sir, and keep it there." Then, as he marked his ball on
the next green, he heard the shutter go off on an inexpensive
camera carried by a teenager. He screamed, "Put that thing away
or I'll wrap it around your....How rude to bring a camera on the
golf course!" Amid the murmuring crowd, a droll Irishman drew a
laugh when he said, softly but brightly, "Now there's a friendly

Montgomerie's behavior is usually a barometer of how well he's
playing, which is why fellow Scots liken his outbursts to an
infant's hurling toys out of a pram. But last week, despite his
tantrums, Big Monty didn't play like a baby. Instead he gave a
vivid demonstration of why he should be considered the favorite
at next week's 125th British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes
on the west coast of England. His victory was one of will as he
huffed and puffed, bad mood and all, to rounds of 69-69-73-68
for a five-under 279.

On Thursday, on his fourth hole, Montgomerie had a triple bogey
that included the first whiff of his pro career, on an attempted
wedge recovery from a stream bank. He began the third round
with a double bogey on the first hole. On Sunday, after taking
the lead from Oldcorn with three birdies in the first six holes,
Montgomerie gave it back with three-putt bogeys at the 8th and
9th. But he didn't make another bogey the rest of the way, and
his 25-footer for a birdie at the 71st got him to within a
stroke of the 36-year-old Oldcorn, who, with his third career
victory in sight, succumbed on the 72nd. Needing a par to win on
the 452-yard par-4, Oldcorn hooked his drive into deep rough,
pitched into the fairway and left his approach 30 feet short of
the pin. He ran his first putt four feet by and, perhaps with
visions of Davis Love III at the U.S. Open in his head, pulled
the downhill comebacker out of the hole.

It was an important victory for Montgomerie. Since winning in
his first appearance of the year, at Dubai, he has been
snakebit, with close calls at the Players Championship as well
as three European tour events--the Benson and Hedges, the
Deutsche Bank and the English Open. His 11th career victory got
Montgomerie back on track, solidifying his bid to top the
European money list for a fourth consecutive season--he stands
first with £412,811, more than £135,000 ahead of runner-up Ian
Woosnam--and moving him closer to what he considers "a hell of
an achievement," supplanting Norman atop the Sony Ranking. Most
important, the win gives him confidence going into Royal Lytham.

"The timing couldn't have been better," said Montgomerie in the
wake of his win. "My putting's improving, and going into Lytham,
it's good to hit shots down the stretch like I did today." He
has yet to win a major championship and has never been better
than eighth in the British Open, last year failing to make the
cut. But with Nick Faldo so far unable to recover his Masters
form and Norman slumping, Montgomerie is clearly the man to
beat. Majors seem as if they should be his metier, as only
Faldo's game is better built for their rigors. A professional
for eight years, Montgomerie has already come close to winning
four Grand Slam events--the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach,
where he was third; the 1994 edition at Oakmont, where he was
last in a three-man playoff; this year's outside Detroit, where
he was 10th; and last year's PGA at Riviera, where he lost in
sudden death to Steve Elkington. Montgomerie is due.

Others at the Irish also served notice that they are in top form
for Lytham. For now Bernhard Langer appears to have overcome the
yips, as well as the discouragement that was so obvious at the
U.S. Open after he was disqualified for signing an incorrect
scorecard. In a rare moment of weakness, Langer wondered aloud
if his game would ever be good enough to hold up on a course as
difficult as Oakland Hills. But the 38-year-old German is back,
having finished second earlier this month at the French, where
he lost a playoff to Robert Allenby, and a solid tie for 12th at
the Irish. Langer attributes his return to a new grip. And
prayer, particularly with his wife, Vikki, whom he refers to as
"my prayer warrior."

Also in 12th at Druids Glen was Ernie Els, who along with
girlfriend Liezl Wehmeyer enjoyed a carefree week frequenting
pubs. But the 26-year-old South African also got in what he
called an "extremely good" practice session with Bob Torrance,
the father of Sam Torrance and one of the most respected
teachers in the game. "Ernie was making the second move in the
downswing the first one," said Torrance, who has another move to
show Els but will wait for this week's Scottish Open. "You don't
drink the whole bottle in one go," Torrance said. By the British
Open, where Els made a strong showing before fading in the final
round last year, he should have consumed the entire contents.

A dark horse at Lytham might be Allenby, the 24-year-old
Australian who has won the English Open in addition to the
French this year and stands third on the money list. A fierce
competitor whose forte is accuracy, the rail-thin Allenby is
beginning to attain the stardom that has been predicted for him.

The man with the most self-assurance at the moment, though, is
Montgomerie. "Monty's biggest strength is his forthrightness,"
Oldcorn said on Saturday night, when he held a one-stroke lead.
"He has come to understand how good he is, and he fears no other
player. He is himself a fearsome player, especially with his
long game."

Anytime hitting fairways and greens is at a premium, Montgomerie
must be reckoned with. He led the field in fairways hit and
greens in regulation at last year's PGA and again at the U.S.
Open at Oakland Hills. To do that once is astounding, twice out
of three majors Hoganesque.

After one look at Druids Glen, a lovely inland course where
tournament organizers grew heavy rough and made some fairways
less than 20 paces wide and where only one golfer scored lower
than 68 all week, Montgomerie knew he was in his element. "This
is as good as it gets," he said loftily. "These are the kinds of
courses we have to play for the standard on the European tour to
get better, and for our players to win major championships. The
skill in golf is in hitting every fairway and green so that you
don't have to chip at all. I want players punished from the very
first shot they hit."

When Sam Torrance said the Irish Open would have been a better
preparation for Lytham if it had been held up the road at the
classic links of Portmarnock, when Woosnam complained about the
bunkers having too much sand, and when Langer said the rough was
too high around Druids Glen's greens, Montgomerie shot back,
"People who criticize this course should find another tour to
play." Said Langer, narrowing his eyes when he heard that, "He's
not in charge."

That may be true, but at the moment Montgomerie is Europe's most
important player, like it or not. And despite the entreaties of
his friend Faldo, who has urged him to join the PGA Tour,
Montgomerie intends to stay on his side of the Atlantic. "It
might not seem like it to watch me compete, but there are far
more important things in life to me than golf," he says.

Those who witnessed Montgomerie in full pout in Ireland were not
convinced, which, all in all, made for a nice bit of craic.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID CANNON/ALLSPORT A confident Monty left Druids Glen feeling he could walk on water. [Colin Montgomerie walking in front of fountain]

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID CANNON/ALLSPORT While Langer got a line on his putting problem, Els (right) got some tips, then tipped a few. [Bernhard Langer; Ernie Els]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID CANNON/ALLSPORT Montgomerie was gracious in victory but hardly the toast of the tournament with players and fans. [Colin Montgomerie holding trophy and pint of stout]