Golf: Monty expects tough Ryder Cup

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The Independent Online
AMERICA'S DISMAL performance in the Presidents Cup - when they were comprehensively thrashed by the likes of Ernie Els, Nick Price and Greg Norman, not forgetting Shigeki Maruyama of Japan, playing under the collective banner of an International team - does not guarantee Europe victory in this September's Ryder Cup, according to Colin Montgomerie.

The man who has led the Order of Merit for the last six years and secured the victory at Valderrama in the last Ryder Cup 18 months ago, is not expecting a walkover at the Country Club of Brookline despite the one- sided nature of the match at Royal Melbourne last month.

"I think it is going to be competitive," Montgomerie said. "It was an amazing result in Melbourne. I felt the Americans were going to win but it was at the end of a long season.

"Their world ranking form is not coming through in team-orientated events just now but I think that is coincidence more than anything else. Come the Ryder Cup, it'll be different again and a very tight struggle."

Montgomerie first faces the Americans on home soil in the head-to-head version of the game at La Costa, near San Diego, in next month's Andersen Consulting World Match Play Championship.

The Scot is nominally the defending champion, but the event has evolved to become one of three new tournaments which are meant to be next to the majors in importance. Montgomerie sees them as a chance to boost his world ranking from ninth and challenge the No 1, Tiger Woods, as well as David Duval, who shot a 59 last Sunday to win his second successive event. "There are no excuses now," he said. "We are playing on a level playing field now."

Monty will do so without his mentor, Bill Ferguson, who rescued the Scot from a mid-season slump but has been jettisoned for the second time. Denying the move was motivated by money, as had been reported, Montgomerie said: "I am happy with what I am doing.

"Bill and I remain close friends, and have spoken since and will again. I feel I can go it alone for a while but that does not mean forever. The door is not closed. I am looking to see who can help me on certain aspects of the game. I already work with Dave Pelz on my chipping and putting, and that is a key thing as regards scoring."

Gary Player's intention to make the 2001 Open at Royal Lytham his 46th and last appearance in the championship will rest on the Royal and Ancient changing their exemption rules, as they did for Arnold Palmer in 1995. The R&A altered the age limit on past champions from "under-65" to "65 and under" just to let Palmer bow out at St Andrews four years ago.

But the rule was immediately changed back again and did not become permanent as Player, who won the third of his Open titles at Lytham in 1974, hoped. "Maybe Gary is hoping we will change the rule again," David Hill, secretary of the championship committee, said. "And maybe we will."

Jack Nicklaus will be out for three months after a hip replacement operation, thus breaking his record of 40 successive appearances in the US Masters. Nicklaus, the winner of six Masters titles, had been suffering from a degenerative problem in his left hip.