Ken Jones: Skilful recovery provides therapy for Montgomerie

A commonly known fact about Colin Montgomerie is that his attempts to win a major golf championship have been undermined frequently by outbreaks of petulance. Throughout his long career Montgomerie has been disturbed by sights and sounds that escape the attention of other players: a movement in the gallery, a whispered comment, a careless cameraman.

A commonly known fact about Colin Montgomerie is that his attempts to win a major golf championship have been undermined frequently by outbreaks of petulance. Throughout his long career Montgomerie has been disturbed by sights and sounds that escape the attention of other players: a movement in the gallery, a whispered comment, a careless cameraman.

When Montgomerie set off at Troon yesterday, his 52nd appearance in a major, there was something oddly different about his demeanour. The mood wasn't jocular - given his nature how could it be? - but you sensed that this was a man using the game from which he has made many millions as therapy to deal with the break-up of his marriage.

It certainly seemed to be the case when Montgomerie came to speak about an opening round of 69, his second-best starting score in the Open. He was well in control of himself but filled the room with rather too much gratitude. He thanked the galleries for their encouragement, commended those responsible for setting up the course, and referred to the many messages of support since details of his private life were made public. "People come up to me in the street and wish me well," he said.

When Montgomerie went on to speak about loneliness it began to get embarrassing. "I haven't been open about my difficulties recently," he said. "I think that's been done for me. I spend a lot of time on the road, on my own. But I'm not shying away from anything. To be playing in the Open at Troon could not have come at a better time for me."

On the sparse, firm fairways of a links course players have to adapt. The trick is to hit down and through the ball, squeezing it between club face and turf so that it flies off true and low. If it blows - there was never much more than an occasionally capricious breeze when Montgomerie went to the first tee in the company of Thomas Bjorn and Frank Lickliter - all the yardage charts become useless.

Good players quite like a breeze in their faces; they can use it to control the ball and it lands without any great forward momentum. Nobody knows these things better than Montgomerie, who was delighted with his performance. "It was important that I managed to par the first. That might sound strange because it's an easy hole, really [he hit four-iron, nine-iron]".

Montgomerie is not the most athletic-looking golfer. He ambles rather than strides, his shoulders slump. Nobody has ever mistaken him for a male model. In moments of reflection, even when the portents are good, his chin drops onto his chest.

Still, it's the shot-making that counts. Montgomerie picked up three birdies over the first six holes and hung on at the turn. The perceived wisdom about Troon is post a score on the front nine and defend it on the way back. This suddenly appeared to be a bigger problem than Montgomerie had imagined. No sooner had Montgomerie turned for home than the course struck back at him. With his long experience of playing Troon, right from boyhood days, nobody knows better that if the pin at the 10th is positioned on the right side, you do not go right. A great drive left Montgomerie with a fairly comfortable shot in, but he came right off the ball. It went into a bank for a double-bogey six.

When another shot went at the 11th, the most difficult par-four on the course, people on the fringes of the action exchanged knowing glances. Montgomerie had lost momentum, they thought. He'd found a bush off the tee and was forced to accept a penalty drop. Actually, he thought that a five, achieved with a nerveless eight-foot putt, was a good score. "If I hadn't made that I probably wouldn't have birdied 12 and 15," he said.

As Montgomerie approached the 12th green he received an ovation. "The crowd knew I'd dropped shots, and I could sense that they were willing me to do well. That made a huge difference," he said.

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