James Lawton: Montgomerie's skin is too thin to stop talent leaking away

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The Independent Online

Some speculation, no doubt well meant, is suggesting that from amid the emotional turmoil Colin Montgomerie has been broadcasting on an almost daily basis for the last few months he may just find the steel and the concentration to win his first major on his native soil this week.

On balance, though, you would probably have to say there is more chance of president George W Bush translating several pages of Sanskrit, declining a few Latin verbs and chewing down a stick of bubble gum all at the same time.

Montgomerie has a brilliant golf talent but unfortunately it is housed in a temperament which too often suggests more a garrulous agony aunt than a world-class competitor.

His solitary, soulful walk over Royal Troon the other day hinted at the kind of reflection which might just have served him well after a period of intense introspection following the collapse of his marriage to beautiful hometown girl Eimear. Unfortunately the walk wasn't solitary. The sporting paparazzi went along too. Along with the haunting images, inevitably there was another stream of consciousness.

One of his prize observations was that seven years of mastery of European golf took too much of a claim on his personal life. The implication was that success came at too high a price? But who was paying it? Only Monty. Only he conducted his golf career with every emotion wide open to the least intrusion from outside. When some drunken American taunted him with a gross insult, it was Monty who bit deeply at the provocation, and before it became clear that he was such an easy target, it was he who bridled at some distant whisper or, once, the rustling of a Harrod's shopping bag in the gallery at Wentworth. Not so long ago Montgomerie made a defence of attitudes that, for all his success in Europe, so relentlessly drained away his capacity to win the major tournaments which were so plainly within the reach of his ability. He said: "If I didn't have steam I wouldn't be as motivated, as competitive... so I'm glad I've got it."

Therein, you have to believe, lies the big problem. Lester Piggott didn't need steam. Neither did Ben Hogan. Nor Jack Nicklaus. Least of all, as the supreme example for Montgomerie, did Nick Faldo. John McEnroe of course did, but he used it as a resource, not something to deflect him from his hard purpose. While McEnroe screamed at an umpire, he was also psyching himself up. When Monty emits his steam, it is plainly self-destructive. When he missed a shortish putt on the first day of the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond he showed an old flash of irritation. His caddy said that it was a sign that he was back in serious business. But then all past evidence works against that as a source of optimism.

When Piggott won arguably his greatest Derby, in 1972 on Roberto, Epsom rang not with cheers but boos. They were directed at what was considered at the time to be one of the most shocking cases of jocking-off. Piggott was given the ride over the popular Bill Williamson and as the Long Fellow took Roberto out there were hisses and jeers. The old jockey Lord Oaksey observed: "It was curious to hear those boos and cries; it was though the crowd didn't realise that no man on earth was less susceptible to the sound of a mob." Piggott brought in the winner, tipped his cap to the American owner and walked away with an expression of unforgettable disdain.

There is one main reason why Faldo has won six majors and Montgomerie none. It is not to do with talent. It is about that refusal to recognise the mob. "Not a lot of people in Britain understand what it takes to get to the top in world sport, and still less how you stay there." Faldo says. "So what do you do? You work as hard as you can and you go your own way." In 1996, when Greg Norman was consumed by the groans of the galleries at Augusta, Faldo won his third green jacket by occupying space that was entirely his own. As Norman disintegrated, Faldo marched on. While still a boy, he told me over lunch in his hometown, Welwyn Garden City: "My ambition is to be a golf machine. I want to eliminate all mistakes." And, he might have added, all gratuitous emotion.

For Montgomerie the bitter truth is that along with the steam he has generated his own demons. Maybe they cannot be revoked now but he is obliged to try. He is still five years short of the age at which Nicklaus won his last major - and sixth Masters title - and no doubt in the residue of that talent which has so often been squandered - or swept away - on tides of angst there are still stirrings which could one day produce an ultimate performance.

But not, it has to be suspected, from within his current maelstrom of pain. Mongomerie can moodily prowl every patch of heather in his homeland. He can irrigate his soul with a thousand tears of regret. But none of it will matter if he doesn't engage the truth that most true winners absorb almost from the word go. It is that to beat the world you first have to beat yourself. Perhaps, after all his recent dramas and sadness, Monty is at least moving towards this most important of battlefields. However, as a caution against all those other failures at the highest level, he does need to remind himself that it is terribly late.

Why Rooney must stay on Merseyside

The assumption, thus far unchecked by the people in charge of his career, that Wayne Rooney's move away from Everton is not just likely but inevitable surely makes the blood run cold.

All logic, all understanding of life, says that Rooney's interests - and the national asset of his talent - would be best served by his remaining among his Merseyside roots for several more years. This is self-evident in human as well as football terms. Already, from the ill-conceived birthday party at Aintree racecourse to the disastrous serialisation in The Sun newspaper, we have seen evidence that the boy is in need of some better protection.

Rooney is a lad of whom it is difficult to believe the worldliness implied by the report that he had demanded to see the Everton books - to determine whether they could really stump up the money for his massive pay rise.

The reality is that the interests of the wunderkind Rooney and those of his agent are not the same. Agents, as we know only too well, make their money by moving bodies around football. Rooney's body, and his experience of life as well as football, is so young that in this case the likely trafficking becomes quite obscene.

Douglas jumps for honest athletics' joy

On the haunted road to Athens nothing has been more refreshing than the sight of 21-year-old Nathan Douglas taking his chance to make the Olympic qualifying mark.

His joy when his last of six triple jumps was good reminded you of the fine line between glory and failure. On a grey afternoon in Manchester the young man from Oxford said he was living a dream, that he felt he was perhaps asleep. It was one of those times in athletics when the requirement is to suspend doubt, when the sheer weight of foreboding has to be put down - at least for a little while.

Long enough, at least, to share the pleasure of the presumed innocent. Before hearing, for example, that Marion Jones, the superwoman of Sydney four years ago, had bleakly fled the US trials in Sacramento after failing to win the chance to defend her 100m title in Athens. Her boyfriend Tim Montgomery, the world record holder, suffered a similar fate. He has the additional problem of awaiting trial on drug offences, Jones merely suffers from the weight of rumour. In Sydney she was a goddess - right up to the moment she was obliged to sit beside her now divorced husband C J Hunter, while he explained how it was that he had tested positive.

There is a body of opinion that says that in the wake of the Balco lab scandal the war on cheats is gaining ground. It is an attractive but complicated thought. Meanwhile, we can share the dream of young Nathan. It is not his fault that we have to do it so fitfully.