Golf: Montgomerie the money man supreme

Showdown in Jerez: Weary Westwood must raise his game to challenge Europe's most consistent winner
Click to follow
The Independent Online
SO IT'S that man again. Monty. He just won't go away. For the fifth time in six years, Colin Montgomerie will tee up in the Volvo Masters this week with a chance of winning the order of merit. On each previous occasion, he succeeded in his endeavour. On the other, he had already won it before flying to southern Spain.

It is a remarkable level of consistency from a man of remarkable talents, one of which is for contradiction. After collecting his record fifth successive Vardon Trophy, Montgomerie said a sixth was "not a priority - that's been and done".

After winning the British Masters last month, he added: "I'm not pressing for any money titles. That has been done and dusted. It's something I'm very proud of but whether it is five or six titles, it doesn't really interest me the same."

Yet it took Lee Westwood's fourth European win of the season at the Belgacom Open to keep alive interest in the destination of the No 1 spot at Montecastillo this week. Montgomerie, who has won three times, leads Westwood by pounds 45,266. An outright win for either player, and the pounds 166,000 first prize, would give them the money title, although Darren Clarke in third place still has an outside chance if both rivals falter.

Montgomerie is genetically programmed to accept any challenge that comes along and has usually swept the gauntlet from off the ground virtually before it has been thrown down. And, anywhere between the extremes of winning a major championship and trying to beat a Paraguayan/Indian/Chinaman at St Andrews, he rarely fails to succeed.

So it was not really a surprise to log on to Montgomerie's internet homepage on Golfweb last week and find the following: "On 29 October, I will tee it up in the Volvo Masters at Montecastillo determined to head the Volvo Ranking for a record sixth successive season." Monty added: "It would be no exaggeration to suggest this summer was a bit of a disaster for me." He then exaggerates by saying he missed the cut at the US Open, where in fact he finished 18th, but is right in saying that he endured "one of the worst runs I've ever had to endure as a professional".

He went to see Dave Peltz, a putting specialist and returned to his old coach, Bill Ferguson. In three weeks last month, he won the British and the German Masters. "I was averaging 26.5 putts per round during that spell, which was about three putts per round better than I had done earlier in the season. This is the main reason I've gotten myself in such good position.

"I have to be honest and say my long game is still not quite where I want it to be. At its best I would say that it has been about 50 per cent during the last month or so, which is good enough when I'm putting well, but nothing like as good as it should be."

Montgomerie has always stated that he has had to improve to stay No 1 as the standard of the tour has improved. If he is not improving, the counter-argument is that for one man still to dominate, the rest must be lagging behind.

Like Alex Ferguson, the Scot can point to who he has beaten. In 1993, Montgomerie leapfrogged over Nick Faldo by winning at Valderrama. A year later he held off Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer. In '95, it was a tense battle with Sam Torrance. In '96, Ian Woosnam had to concede defeat with an event to go and Langer could have deprived Monty last year.

Westwood stands as an equal among that high-class collection. Although initially also deflecting his interest in the money title, the 25-year- old has made a determined bid over the last month to stay in touch, winning in Belgium when admitting to being tired after an extraordinary 12 months.

It is nonsense that Westwood has yet to receive a player of the month award this season. Should Montgomerie win the money title, Westwood would still be a worthy winner of the player of the year award.

Both players can still become the first to break the pounds 1m barrier in a single season; Montgomerie will probably break his season's earnings record from fewer events than ever before. It helps that in the 13 events in which he has made the cut, he has been outside the top-12 only twice.

Inflationary purses have helped, but the fact that the top two, along with Clarke, have hived most of the pot underlines the transitional status of the European tour. There may be more better players, more players capable of winning, but few who do so on a regular basis.

Apart from Monty and Westwood, the tour's only other multiple winners are Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Australia's Stephen Leaney with two each. As for the seven first-time winners, only Andrew Coltart and Patrik Sjoland represent exciting potential.

Next year, the order of merit will look more like a world money list as the new World Championship events, plus the US Open and US PGA are included. Ballesteros says 90 per cent of the tour think this is wrong and on Wednesday the players can air their views at a meeting. No doubt those not in the elite events are against the idea. But it is not a closed shop. Anyone who wins regularly can contend, just like Westwood and Monty this week.