Golf: Monty's masterful reply to attack by Faldo

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The Independent Online
FOR THE seven European Ryder Cup players present at the 30th edition of the Lancome Trophy, which starts today at the chic St-Nom-la-Breteche club, the event represents their last chance for a morale-boosting few days before jetting out to Boston on Concorde on Monday.

Four years ago, when the tournament was played two weeks before the team's departure for an ultimately successful week at Oak Hill, Colin Montgomerie won but Jose Maria Olazabal announced he had to withdraw from the Ryder Cup for what turned out to be an 18-month exile from the game with foot injuries.

While Olazabal's form is currently a cause for concern, it is Montgomerie who has been the victim of a foot-in-mouth problem. Nick Faldo's vicious attack on the six-times European No 1 could not have been more ill-timed.

Last week at the Canadian Open, where Faldo finished eighth, the man rejected by Mark James directed some of his ire in the direction of Monty, whom he equated with Jumbo Ozaki, the Japanese veteran who is a prolific winner at home but does nothing overseas. "He is in a comfort zone and is happy earning his fat cheques each week," Faldo added.

Montgomerie made a dignified reply yesterday. He is fully aware of the obsession of the media on that side of the Atlantic for his failure to win on the US tour. "I haven't taken it to heart," he said.

"I have a great amount of respect for Nick, as I am sure he has for me, and let's hope he gets back to the way he can play. The timing is unfortunate but I am sure his comments were not meant to harm anybody in the European Ryder Cup team. He knows that my family comes first. I am as ambitious as the next guy."

In making up for his defeat by Bob May last week at Woburn, Montgomerie can further extend his Order of Merit lead of pounds 370,000 over the non-competing Lee Westwood. The Scot's aim is to get pounds 660,000 in front prior to the new season-ending event, the AmEx World Championship at Valderrama where the first prize is $1m (pounds 622,238). "It is a bit like Manchester United having a 14-point lead but someone else beating them because they won 15 points for the last game of the season," Monty pondered.

Olazabal has only once completed four rounds since breaking his hand at the US Open and that was in an event with no cut. The Spaniard was 40th out of 41 at the NEC Invitational, 22 strokes behind Tiger Woods. But Ollie says he is rested after two weeks off and looking forward to these two weeks.

His and Montgomerie's Ryder Cup experience will be tapped at a dinner hosted by the team captain, Mark James, tonight in Versailles. "This hasn't happened before but because there are so many rookies I think Mark feels it is a good idea to have a get together," Montgomerie said.

Andrew Coltart, who became the proud father of a baby daughter, Bonnie, at the weekend, was practising hard after missing the last two weeks. But his compatriot Paul Lawrie, the Open champion, is miffed about the change in date of the Grand Slam in Hawaii.

The event, bringing together the four major winners, has been put back a week to allow Woods to attend both there and the World Cup, where the world No 1 is reputed to be on a $1m appearance fee. Lawrie had previously pulled out of the World Cup.

The Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews on 7 to 10 October, boasts three of this year's major winners in its line-up. The Masters champion, Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, the US Open champion, Payne Stewart of America, and the Open champion, Paul Lawrie of Scotland, will compete. The one notable absentee is the USPGA champion, Tiger Woods.