Golf: Montgomerie clears the way to America

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The Independent Online
Ever in the news, Colin Montgomerie has written to members of the US Ryder Cup team he criticised at Valderrama. Today, he leads Scotland in the Alfred Dunhill Cup, as Andy Farrell reports from St Andrews.

Before the golf, here are the day's list of denials: Mark James does not have a burning desire to be the Ryder Cup captain; Miguel Angel Martin is 100 per cent fit again and wants to forget the past; and Colin Montgomerie regrets the comments which have fuelled such a furore in America.

There was a long list of "Any other business" on the agenda here yesterday. Montgomerie's pre-tournament address to the press was prefaced with a written statement on which he would not entertain questions. Prior to the Ryder Cup, Montgomerie was asked to justify his assertion that the American team was not as strong as many thought. What followed was an analysis of each of the US players, much of which was borne out by what happened at Valderrama.

Among the highlights were that Tiger Woods may win five points but could not win the Cup on his own; no one would be intimidated by playing Jeff Maggert; and that Brad Faxon does not hit the ball straight enough for Valderrama. Where Monty strayed too far was in saying that because of his divorce, Faxon may not be mentally ready for the match.

By the time the comments were heavily quoted, misquoted and, in Montgomerie's view, "twisted" on the other side of the Atlantic, matters had got out of hand. With the Scot likely to play full-time in the States next year things needed cooling down.

"My remarks did not come out as I intended and I regret this has occurred," Montgomerie read. "I especially regret the personal nature of remarks about members of the US team. I have written to each person on the team who was named in the press and to captain Tom Kite and I have made special efforts to discuss the situation with Brad Faxon and I shall always be grateful to him and shall respect his understanding which, under the circumstances, has been so professional.

"It has been particularly disappointing to me that other parties not directly related to the situation have taken it upon themselves to comment so aggressively on uncorroborated and distorted reports."

This was a reference to remarks by US Tour players Fred Funk - "Monty is the jerk of the world" - and Bob Estes, who called him a "cry baby" and suggested no one would play practice rounds with the Scot.

But Faxon, who beat Montgomerie at the World Match Play at Wentworth last week and is a member of the defending American Dunhill Cup side, came out in support. "I don't think Colin's words were mean-spirited," he said. Faxon also said anyone cold-shouldering the Scot was worried about him taking dollars out of their pockets if he plays in America.

Martin did not want to rake over the even greater Ryder Cup controversy of his exclusion on fitness grounds. Today sees the Spaniard's first competitive round since the Open in July and although his left wrist is strapped, he does not need any more treatment or to exercise it.

Europe's Ryder Cup captaincy for 1999 is up for grabs, but though mentioned in dispatches, James is not doing the grabbing. He once said you would have to be "stark raving bonkers" to want the job. "It is a no-win situation," he said yesterday. "Even Seve has been criticised and he won the thing." But, the increasingly skilled political operator that he is, James added: "It is something that if it ever came along I'd have to think about at the time it was offered."

James leads an England team that includes Lee Westwood and Russell Claydon and has been drawn against favourites America, who consist of Faxon, Mark O'Meara and Justin Leonard. The toughest of the four groups - the round- robin system lasts three days while it takes as long for someone to work out who qualifies for the semi-finals and final on Sunday - is that containing Scotland, South Africa, Ireland and Germany.

ALFRED DUNHILL CUP DRAW (St Andrews, today until Sunday): Group One: United States, England, Argentina, Japan. Group Two: Australia, Sweden, France, Taiwan. Group Three: South Africa, Scotland, Ireland, Germany. Group Four: Zimbabwe, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain. Winners of each group qualify for semi-finals on Sunday: Group One v Group Two, Group Three v Group Four.