Montgomerie misses an invite to the Masters ball

Over the years, Colin Montgomerie has learnt not to expect too much from the Americans, apart from the odd heckle, of course, concerning his weight, his mood and even his gender. So when it was announced yesterday that the Scot they call "Mrs Doubtfire" would almost certainly not be receiving a special invitation to next week's Masters it hardly caused him to smudge his mascara or throw his pink-rinsed wig to the ground in disgust.

Over the years, Colin Montgomerie has learnt not to expect too much from the Americans, apart from the odd heckle, of course, concerning his weight, his mood and even his gender. So when it was announced yesterday that the Scot they call "Mrs Doubtfire" would almost certainly not be receiving a special invitation to next week's Masters it hardly caused him to smudge his mascara or throw his pink-rinsed wig to the ground in disgust.

Nevertheless, you will not find many in the golfing world who are not aggrieved that the player with one of the most recognisable names, frames and, indeed, games will not be appearing at Augusta for the first time in 14 years. Not least among them is the Ryder Cup captain, Ian Woosnam, who yesterday spoke of his frustration that a player who is almost certain to be one of his key men in Dublin in 18 months' time would not be there to fly the triumphant European flag.

Such is the bizarre nature of this sport and its shameless love affair with its past champions that the non-playing captain, who admits his best days are several light years behind him, has a berth in the year's first major but his star performer does not. Imagine Sven Goran Eriksson playing in the Champions' League, while David Beckham is stuck at home.

"Yeah, it's a shame because Monty's been one of the great golfers over the last 15 years and I think he's played good enough this year to deserve a wildcard," said Woosnam, who will play next week by dint of winning there in 1991. "But, you know, someone's got to have it [the wildcard]. It's just a pity it's not Colin."

And that is the fact that has been the cause of much disquiet that has been confined to a whisper only because of the infamous touchiness of the Masters committee, whose sole wildcard choice this year is the Japanese Tour's Order of Merit winner, Shingo Katayama, despite him being almost 30 places behind Montgomerie in the world rankings. Last year, Zhang Lian-Wei was the lucky recipient when he became the first Chinese player to appear at Augusta, a decision viewed largely as being made for commercial reasons.

It is difficult not to apply the same cynical logical to this year's choice, although the good denizens of Magnolia Drive would claim that Montgomerie has never won a major, only made last year's Ryder Cup as a captain's pick and, most tellingly of all, has a ranking of 54 that is not good enough to warrant an automatic spot. But, while all this is true, as one European Tour source said yesterday: "If Monty had come from a part of the world seen as having the key to the next golfing goldmine, and not from Scotland, then he would have been an absolute shoo-in."

At least Padraig Harrington, another Ryder Cup hero, seems almost certain to take his place. Last week, Harrington had ruled himself doubtful at The Players Championship as he rushed home to be with his father, Paddy, who is suffering from inoperable cancer. But there was good news from Dublin yesterday, when the 72-year-old was deemed strong enough to be discharged from hospital.

In the countdown to Augusta, it has been easy to forget that there is a golf tournament about to start; quite easy actually seeing as what we have just north of Atlanta is the golfing equivalent of Mr Puniverse with Charles Atlas due next on stage.

That, perhaps, is a tad unfair to the Bell South Classic, which can boast two of the world's top five - Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen - as well as Britain's newly highest-ranked player, Luke Donald, in the field, although from the comments circulating around the hazy air of Sugarloaf Country Club yesterday, it is obvious where the attentions lie. "Hopefully, I'll be able to play well this week and get some momentum for next," said Mickelson, the reigning Augusta champion.

Even Woosnam seemed far from up to it, despite the 47-year-old only having played a handful of tournaments this year. When asked what shape his game was in, he replied: "What game? I'll be happy to make the cut and get myself in shape for Augusta." What Montgomerie would give for such a luxury.

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