Montgomerie plays for sympathy but is running out of time

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The Independent Online

For more years than he cares to remember, Colin Montgomerie has been known as one of the best players never to win a major championship. Twice a runner-up in the US Open, once in the USPGA championship, he's never quite got there.

For more years than he cares to remember, Colin Montgomerie has been known as one of the best players never to win a major championship. He's had the game - effortless repeating swing, terrific iron player - but his cause has suffered from flaws in temperament. Twice a runner-up in the US Open, once in the USPGA championship, he's never quite got there.

By general consensus, one of the reasons for the absence of a defining moment in Montgomerie's otherwise outstanding career, has been a failure to remain cool when the pressure has built up on him. Particularly in the United States, his relations with the galleries have been frequently subject to emotional disturbance.

This championship, his 52nd major, has seen a big change in Montgomerie's demeanour, brought about, he claims, by the widespread sympathy he has received following a rancorous break-up of his marriage. Ever since Montgomerie opened his heart at a dinner last Tuesday, he has played the sympathy card in the hope that it would lead to an upsurge of support at Troon, where he was born. He didn't miss a trick; amenable, unusually generous with his time, all to drum up encouragement. Montgomerie can not be blamed for this. However, it led to the impression that he was using the tournament as a form of therapy.

There are examples in history of men who turned the trials and tribulations of life to their advantage on the sports field. One that springs immediately to mind was the monumental performance Muhammad Ali gave against Joe Frazier in Manila in 1975, just three days after exposure as a womaniser wrecked his second marriage; another was Bobby Moore's magnificent form for England in the Mexico World Cup of 1970, after being held on a trumped-up charge of theft from a jewellery shop in Bogota.

If the 133rd Open provided Montgomerie with a refuge from his personal problems, it hardly fell into the dramatic category of Ali and Moore. Indeed, you sensed that self-absorption was never far from the surface, although the adopted persona appeared to work for him in the first three rounds, when support for him grew less out of sympathy than the notion he could mount the most serious home challenge.

Before Montgomerie set off with Mike Weir on the closing round yesterday, it was his contention that two birdies over the opening holes would charge up his supporters. "If I can do that, I may have a real chance," he said. It sounded as though Montgomerie was tempting fate. However, he appeared to be in a serene mood despite difficulties in club selection caused by a heavy breeze whipping in from the Firth of Clyde. Having cautiously taken the fairway bunkers out of play he lingered over his second shot, disturbed by a sudden gust of wind.

Considering the circumstances - the urgent need to make up ground on the leaders - an opening par was less than Montgomerie had sought, particularly as Weir struck immediately with a birdie. The second was safely negotiated after a shot in from light rough on the left of the fairway, but there was already a tentative touch to Montgomerie's work with his belly putter and it would cost him dearly.

Another par at the tricky 379-yard third meant that an early charge from Montgomerie had not materialised, but the galleries remained vociferously with him. Shouts of "Come on Monty," greeted him at every turn and he was welcomed at every green with an ovation.

Montgomerie launched into his drive at the fourth, a par five of 560 yards, and sent his approach left just off the putting surface to leave himself with the chance of an eagle. He had to settle for a birdie but at last he had moved his score along. At the next, there was more evidence of Montgomerie's uncertainty.

When left with a slick short putt at the par-three fifth, Montgomerie's confidence wasn't helped when Weir holed a bunker shot for birdie. There was now a sense of distraction in his play, uncertainties in club selection. It all seemed to be draining away. A missed birdie putt that hung on the lip at the eighth, followed by a bogey at the ninth, did for him. "I could have reached the turn at five under which would have still left me with some sort of chance," he said. "Instead I was dropping down the leaderboard." He fell further after double-bogeys at the 13th and 17th.

The dramas of golf are carried on the wind. It was all happening elsewhere, leaving Montgomerie to reflect on a closing 76, two over for the championship. Clearly disappointed, he said: "It's a long drive home so there will be plenty of time to think about this week. Considering that I had to qualify, how well I played for three rounds and the tremendous support I've had, not only in Scotland but throughout Britain, I will remember this Open for a long time." Time waits for no golfer and it hadn't slowed respectfully to a crawl for Colin Montgomerie.