Montgomerie ends year on upswing with PGA honour

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The Independent Online

Over 1,100 people packed into the Great Room at the Grosvenor House Hotel, the largest banqueting suite in London, yesterday to acclaim Colin Montgomerie. The occasion was Monty receiving the Recognition Award for services to golf from the Professional Golfers' Association. From the very public collapse of his marriage to holing the winning putt at the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, what a year he has had.

Over 1,100 people packed into the Great Room at the Grosvenor House Hotel, the largest banqueting suite in London, yesterday to acclaim Colin Montgomerie. The occasion was Monty receiving the Recognition Award for services to golf from the Professional Golfers' Association. From the very public collapse of his marriage to holing the winning putt at the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, what a year he has had.

It has ended on the right note, with applause ringing in his ears. Last week he led for three rounds at the Target World Challenge, the tournament hosted, and won, by Tiger Woods. From the viewpoint of his caddie, Alastair McLean, who was reunited with the Scot for the Ryder Cup after working with him throughout his glory years in the 1990s, his swing was back to its best.

Montgomerie is 41 but, encouraged by the five wins of Miguel Angel Jimenez this year at the age of 40, he is determined to regain his best form next season. And beyond. His idea of captaining the Ryder Cup team in 2006 at the K Club in Ireland has been shelved.

He had stated for a while that it might be the right time, while in the immediate aftermath of the euphoric events at Oakland Hills, he thought it might be best to go out at the top in the playing sense. No longer.

"I've been told I am too young," Montgomerie said. "Everybody, players, officials, everyone has said it is not the right time. After hearing what they have all said I agree with them. If I can maintain my form, I can be there as a player.

"We have to get the right man for the job," he adds. "It's going to be a big job. It is going to be a huge event in Ireland. The whole place is going to come to a halt for the week. It's not a ceremonial post any longer. We have a golden opportunity, with the players we have, to win three in a row for the first time."

It is still not known whether Bernhard Langer, who masterminded the record nine-point victory at Oakland Hills, wants to continue in the role. "If he does want to do it again, then there's your captain," Montgomerie stated. "It's his to say, 'No'."

The matter is due to be discussed at a joint meeting of the Tournament Committee, of which Montgomerie is a member, and the Board of Directors of the European Tour on Monday, but whether there will be a resolution is uncertain. Should Langer not throw his hat into the ring again, Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo will be the front-runners.

As for the America captain, announced as Tom Lehman, Montgomerie, like many others, had thought it would be Paul Azinger or Mark O'Meara. "We wish Tom well," Monty said. "He has quite a job to do. Firstly, he has to unite their team and, secondly, he will have to cope with the huge home support. It will be fair but massive."

Montgomerie has now put away the clubs until the end of next month but he knows he then has work to do, starting with the defence of his Caltex Masters title in Singapore. He is not yet qualified for either the Players Championship in March or the first major of the year, the Masters in April.

This is because he is 80th in the world rankings. "That's ridiculous," he said with typical candour. "That shouldn't be. We'll get that back. I don't want to set too many goals, but I hope to move up to the top 25. But first I need to get back into the top 50 to play in the Players and the Masters.

"You only have to look at what Jimenez has done this year, going from 112th to 12th, to see that it can be done. It's ironic that the two weeks I played best were the Ryder Cup and Tiger's tournament, when there were no points. But last week gave me a lot of confidence. Alastair, my caddie, said it was like watching me in 1995 when he thought I was at my best.

"The key is that I'm hitting the fairways again and since I won the last of my order of merits in 1999, I haven't been hitting the fairways. I got caught up in the rigmarole of trying to hit the ball harder and further with all the new equipment. But with my shallow swing, I'm not that strong out of the rough and I've been in it too often in recent years. That's not the way I play. I know if I can hit the fairway, I know I'll hit the green, and then I'll have a birdie putt."

By the end of next year, Montgomerie will have gone on a training course to prepare him for joining Emma Richards' round-the-world yacht for the New York to Southampton leg in May 2006. "It's a daunting prospect but it's an opportunity you would regret not taking up."

Whether on board, or on the golf course, staying out of the water is presumably the idea.

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