Golf: Monty looks for father figures

Europe's No 1 hopes for a new-baby boom to recover his winning ways as he returns to home ground. Andy Farrell reports
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The Independent Online
COLIN MONTGOMERIE will be hoping to show once again his susceptibility to the "nappy factor" when the European tour arrives in Britain for the first time this week with the Benson and Hedges International at The Oxfordshire. Past evidence suggests that Montgomerie, the proud new father of nine- day-old Cameron, will soon be seen winning again.

Not to be confused with the "toys-out-of-the-pram factor", which has completely the opposite effect, as Monty knows only too well, the "nappy factor"was first noted by Keith Elliott, author of his Golf Form annuals.

It was given credence by the late Peter Dobereiner. In his definitive essay on the subject, Dobereiner wrote: "The theory is that every man seeks the respect and admiration of his off-spring and money alone will not hack it. The recent or imminent arrival of a sprog or scion spurs the new or prospective father to unprecedented efforts. The accumulating body of evidence does seem to establish a connection between fatherhood and achievement."

"Of course, it won't always work," said Elliott. "There aren't enough tournaments for all new dads to triumph. Nevertheless, it is a serious factor to be taken into account by golfing punters."

Elliott's research revealed that six winners on the European tour in both 1995 and 1996 won within 12 months of becoming a father. Steve Elkington, the Australian based in America, won his first major, the 1995 US PGA, beating Montgomerie in a play-off, five months after the birth of his first daughter and then last year won two tournaments, including the US Players' Championship, within five weeks of his first son being born.

Montgomerie was spurred to two victories and the first of his five European order of merit titles by the birth if his first daughter Olivia in 1993. In his first tournament back after Venetia was born in 1996, he won the Dubai Classic.

Refreshed by four weeks off at home, Montgomerie is now raring to go again. After a staccato start, suddenly the main guts of the season have arrived and the Scot is playing in nine tournaments in the next 10 weeks, including both the US Open and the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

Monty started the year, or as he looks at it, ended last year, by pocketing $1m at the Andersen Consulting World Championship but then immediately took six weeks off. He finished 10th in the Dubai Classic before, with uncharacteristic inconsistency, recording three top-tens and two missed cuts in America. While they were his first missed cuts for 18 months, his eighth place at the US Masters was also his best showing at Augusta.

Europe's No1 now lies 94th on the money list, some pounds 265,293.62p behind Ernie Els. That will now change as some of the tour's biggest purses are on offer over the next four weeks: pounds 750,000 at the B&H, pounds 1.2m at the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth, pounds 1.1m at the Deutsche Bank Open in Hamburg and pounds 650,000 at the English Open at Hanbury Manor.

While winning a sixth consecutive money title is not top of Montgomerie's list of priorities, he will be looking for a victory to set off for San Francisco for the US Open with the requisite confidence, which has scarcely been helped this season by his putting. His minimum-maintenance long game can survive without regular practice, but everyone's short game needs constant attention. "Out of the top-10 players in the world, I'm the worst putter," Monty admitted. "It was perhaps the biggest strength of my game. I'm working on it now very hard. I hope the hours of practice will enable me to find something to take me back to where I was on the greens."

Montgomerie came close to winning the PGA title in 1991, only to be beaten in a play-off by Seve Ballesteros. He has a sublime record around the West Course at Wentworth, but a criminal one at The Oxfordshire. In the final round in the last two B&H events, he has shot 84 and 81 in miserable conditions, which would have seen two teams in the sponsor's cricket competition agreeing to share the points without stepping out of the pavilion. At least the floods and rains that rendered Oxfordshire, the county as well as the course, one giant area of casual water, receded to allow drying up last week.

Montgomerie will still be without Alastair McLean, his caddie, who had to fly home before the Masters for a back operation. The surgery was successful but McLean will not return immediately. "It is OK using temporary caddies but Alastair and I have a good understanding of each other and we've built up a good record," Monty said. "Obviously, we don't want to rush anything but he could be back for the US Open which would be a major bonus for me."