James Lawton: For all his many flaws, Montgomerie has earnt this final shot at a proud and apt legacy
If Monty does emerge triumphant, it will enable him to say that in at least one corner of golf he surpassed thegreatest of British golfers, Sir Nick Faldo
Tuesday 28 September 2010
However we reflect on Colin Montgomerie's capacity to make life seem like a whole series of china shops, it is surely hard not to acknowledge that he has made a pretty good, if not flawless, job of tackling the psychological minefield known as the Ryder Cup captaincy.
It also seems fair to believe that only an extremely mean spirit does not hope, maybe even ache, that come Sunday night he will be able to claim for himself a great and unblemished monument, something that one day he can point to and say, "Well, you see, there were a few days when I did get everything right".
Days when he didn't go out and search for demons of his own creation; when he didn't unload a vast mother-lode of angst on the nearest available victim and, finally, didn't suggest that as far as he was concerned the great Walter Hagen might have been speaking another language when he stressed how important it was for every professional golfer to occasionally stop and smell the flowers and count up all his good fortune.
Too often, of course, Monty has given the impression that golf is not a moveable feast but a travelling horror show. One doesn't mean to be impertinent because there is so much that cannot be taken away from this turbulent, error-prone man. Eight orders of European merit speak eloquently enough of a major talent and if his private life has been difficult, and recently come under some persistently prurient attention, this hardly makes him unique, or perhaps even particularly exceptional among travellers along the fast highway of professional sport.
Certainly his failure to win the major tournament for which his ability always made him look so well equipped was pitched on an epic scale with his ultimate disappointment, a double-bogey collapse when the US Open and a glorious redemption at the age of 43 was within touching distance at Winged Foot four years ago. It would be maudlin to extend this recall of the times Montgomerie has been betrayed by the unsteadiness of his temperament, even sadistic to chart the fine line between ultimate success and soul-grinding disappointment.
Yet if Montgomerie does emerge triumphant and unscathed from Celtic Manor at the weekend it will keep intact at least one marvellous consistency in a career which, but for the winning rhythm in Europe, has so often lacked this vital quality.
It will enable him to say that in at least one corner of golf he surpassed the greatest of British golfers, Sir Nick Faldo.
While it is true Faldo remains Europe's top scorer with 25 points, against Monty's 23 , his captaincy of the European team in Louisville two years ago was not so much a validation of a great contribution to the game but an embarrassing betrayal. So far, at least, Montgomery has only confirmed the depth of his feeling, and the extent of his contribution, to the competitive creation of the St Albans corn merchant Sam Ryder.
Some have already argued with this. They say he got it wrong when he rejected Paul Casey and Justin Rose, while plucking from the depths of lost form his friend Padraig Harrington. They challenge his decision to give his team long notice of their opening assignments, a criticism which England's football coach Fabio Capello would no doubt find amusing in view of the fierce reaction to his World Cup policy of keeping his players sweating to within an hour of kick- off.
When Montgomerie declared this week that he rated the threat of the likes of Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker higher than the one presented by Tiger Woods, some were taken back, abruptly, to the last time he put the world's No 1 on his keenest mettle.
That was in 1997 at the US Masters, which the 21-year-old Woods won by a game-changing margin after being advised by Montgomerie that he had some hard lessons to learn among the 'big boys'. When Woods was later asked if it gave him special satisfaction that he outplayed Monty so profoundly when they were drawn in the third round, the neophyte genius lingered over the question for a little while before declaring, with what seemed like the cruelest joy, "Big time". Montgomerie must pray that such a crushing denouement is avoided in the wake of the 38th Ryder Cup.
He must hope that he carries away from South Wales the same sense of achievement that came in Oakland Hills Country Club, Michigan, six years ago, because we can trawl through every day of his golfing life and fail to find anything more whole, more definitive, than the diamond-hard satisfaction that accompanied his winning putt.
With Harrington, Monty was Bernhard Langer's choice to open the European challenge, a job the German's counter-part Hal Sutton had handed to America's big guns Woods and Phil Mickelson. Sutton was wearing a wide-brimmed cowboy hat when he announced that he was applying maximum firepower to the European hopes. Soon enough Montgomerie and Harrington made Sutton feel less like John Wayne than someone with an arrow in his chest shouting, "Injuns".
Monty, unquestionably, was the top Injun in Oakland Hills and it had to be the most delicious gratification for the man who had been so crudely abused in Brookline Country Club five years earlier and yet still managed to beat the late Payne Stewart on the last hole.
For some, Faldo's bout of gracelessness at Valhalla two years ago had at its centre his refusal to consider Montgomerie for a wild-card chance of winning another set of Ryder Cup battle ribbons.
This is because whatever the swing of his mood, or his form, one certainty has always attached itself to Colin Montgomerie. It is that the Ryder Cup, at least until now, has always been guaranteed to bring out the best of him. One day he may reflect that not too many golfers could wish for a superior epitaph.
Scandal of athletes' village disastrous not just for hosts – but for the Games
The competitive spirit among so many athletes heading for the Commonwealth Games should not deflect from the fact that their admirable dedication is, in effect, providing aid and succour to the authors of an appalling scandal.
Not only have the athletes of the Commonwealth been insulted by the slum-like conditions of the athletes' village, so too have the ordinary people of India, so many of whom, we know, are required to live under the weight of appalling corruption.
We are constantly being told that India is emerging as a powerful player in the world economy – but for whose benefit?
It is hard to imagine a more shocking example of indifference to the need to provide decent hospitality and respect, not just to foreign athletes but all those at home involved in the project. The Commonwealth Games officials who awarded the event to Delhi are guilty of an appalling lack of judgment and supervision.
With the Indian organisers, they have turned a sports occasion already challenged as a historic relic into not just an irrelevance but a tawdry example of what happens when staging international sport becomes a prize and not a decently embraced duty.
Tragedy of Newton highlights sport's moral stagnation
The apparent suicide of rugby league star Terry Newton is a personal tragedy that may have wider roots than the two-year ban imposed upon him after he tested positive for the use of human growth hormone. However, such a story can only reinforce our sense of the horror that so often accompanies the incentive to achieve success in sport at any price.
In all the data on drug cheating nothing remains more shocking than a poll of athlete-students at the University of California, Los Angeles, taken in the early eighties.
The question was brutally basic. How many of the young athletes would accept the risk of ill health, either physical or mental, as early as their mid-thirties in exchange for a guaranteed Olympic medal?
An overwhelming majority said they would. The demise of Terry Newton is at the very least a reminder that for all the claims of enhanced scientific preparation of today's athletes, a more basic education in the difference between right and wrong is still widely, and sometimes catastrophically, neglected.
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