May the most testing month for Monty as man and golfer

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The Independent Online

Quite apart from the fact there is no good time to be dealing with the sadness and emotional turmoil of separation and divorce, May was always going to be a crucial time for Colin Montgomerie on the golf course. It is this month that could either solidify the mini-revival of earlier in the season, when he won in Singapore, or confirm an ongoing decline in the powers of the former seven-time European No 1.

Montgomerie has yet to declare whether he will play in the British Masters at the Forest of Arden this week, the first event on home soil and a tournament which marks the season moving into a higher gear. Two events with big prize- money and lots of world ranking points follow: the Deutsche Bank Open in Germany and the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth.

The top 50 in the world rankings at the end of May qualify for The Open, which this year returns to Royal Troon. Few dates in his diary will resonate more powerfully for Montgomerie, as The Open is being played on his home course in his home town. Should he fall out of the world's top 50 in the next few weeks (he is 45th at the moment), the Scot will most likely face a pre-qualifier at Sunningdale at the end of June. It is unthinkable that he will not be at Troon, but then it is also unthinkable that he will not be leading Europe's quest for the Ryder Cup in September.

In the past two matches - losing cause at Brookline, glorious triumph at The Belfry two years ago - Montgomerie was an heroic inspiration to his team. There has been a feeling that, should he not qualify (and he is outside the automatic places) he will definitely receive a wild card. But this may not be the case. Should the decision be made now - a fool's game, given that the most important half of the season is still to come - Thomas Bjorn and Sergio Garcia could be the selections, while Alex Cejka, Justin Rose and Jesper Parnevik would all have to be considered.

There could be no better man than Bernhard Langer, the new captain, to make these decisions. Monty's partner at The Belfry will handle the matter with utter compassion, but he will not be afraid to make a hard-headed decision in the best interests of the team.

Although there will be plenty of sympathy for the man, once Montgomerie has collected himself sufficiently to return to the Tour he will have to show some form. Predicting how he will react once back on the course is almost impossible. For such a competitive sportsman, his moods have always swung violently from round to round and even hole to hole. A couple of early birdies and his troubles could be blotted out; a chance missed at the first couple of holes, or a bogey at the last, and the darkness may descend again.

Like Bjorn, Garcia and Cejka, Monty remains one of the top 10 highest-placed Europeans on the world rankings. None are currently in a position to qualify automatically for the Ryder Cup, but with three majors and the biggest tour events to come the situation can still change.

If there has not been as much Ryder Cup talk so far this season as might be expected, it may be due to the new qualifying system, which involves two tables instead of one. The idea was to make the system fairer, but a certain amount of clarity has been lost. Five players will qualify from the "world points" list, based on a player's world-ranking points from any event since qualifying began last September. Five further players will come from the traditional money list from European Tour events.

Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Fredrik Jacobson and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has won twice this year, look fairly secure. Lee Westwood is also up there, mainly due to his form last autumn. Paul Casey and Ian Poulter could be expected to maintain their places, while Brian Davis has a great chance to become another English rookie.

Raphael Jacquelin and Carlos Rodiles, however, may struggleto stay in the team. There is a further complication for the American-based players such as Cejka, Parnevik and Luke Donald in that they have to confirm by the end of the month that they will play 11 events on the European Tour this season, otherwise they will become ineligible for the team.

Looking down the list that will comprise Hal Sutton's American team, all the usual suspects are there, but the US Open champion, Jim Furyk, is recovering from a wrist operation and may not return to action until just before the match.

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