Montgomerie's salvation is the result of being loved and wanted

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was so many things, this extraordinary triumph of Europe in the Ryder Cup, and you could tick them off one by one as the captain, Bernhard Langer, flawlessly directed his men to the coup de grâce administered so appropriately by Colin Montgomerie in the afternoon sun.

It was so many things, this extraordinary triumph of Europe in the Ryder Cup, and you could tick them off one by one as the captain, Bernhard Langer, flawlessly directed his men to the coup de grâce administered so appropriately by Colin Montgomerie in the afternoon sun.

But then you had to wait until the dusk to grasp fully quite what lay at its heart. It was something more than the victory of a marvellously committed and united team. It was the salvation of a man, a bruised and battered man by his own admission, but one who had been brought back to the finest expression of his talent not by the rewards of a game that makes new millionaires by the week but the sense that he was wanted, and, yes, loved, by the men he had just inspired to a great moment of sports history.

Montgomerie, you may have guessed, was that man. Eleven team-mates already down the road of massive celebration - "sleep will be seen as overrated until we get on the plane in the morning," said the cigar-chomping Darren Clarke - roared with laughter when Lee Westwood held up to Montgomerie a message he had scrawled on a piece of green paper.

"I love you," it said. But when Montgomerie, plainly fighting to control his emotions, said that he wanted to thank his team-mates for helping him through the most difficult days of his life the laughter and the joking died. The entire team stood up and applauded the man who had once again saved the best of his golf for this Ryder Cup which has a concept of team spirit which, as far as the beaten Americans were concerned, might have been written in Sanskrit.

Later, Montgomerie said: "I didn't know my putt had won the Ryder Cup and when I came off the green I was looking for Bernhard to thank him for picking me. I wanted that so badly at this time of my life. And not only did he say I was in the team, he said it was what the players wanted. I can't tell you how much that meant."

Montgomerie's resurrection here after the trauma of divorce from his wife Eimear, who he had met as a teenager in his native Troon, and separation from his three children, has been astonishing, but the marks of pain are still visible enough. He was asked about the details of his weight loss - more than 30lb over the past few months - and if his interrogator expected a litany of pointers to healthy living he was sorely disappointed. "Nobody should lose weight as I did," said Montgomerie. Sleepless nights and mental turmoil were the prime agents, he said. "It's been a long four, five months of mine personally, and I don't want to talk about it. But at the same time it's quite well known and, yeah, I've come a long way in those four months. I'm proud of myself right now.

"I can go away from here with a firm commitment to what I do best, play golf. I have to remake my life, find somewhere to live, and get on with things. After this, I feel much stronger. I feel that by next year I can concentrate on winning again."

At 41 it may be that Montgomerie's chances of winning the major titles, which on several occasions have been tantalisingly close and once seemed an inevitable product of the talent which brought a run of seven first places in the European Order of Merit, have passed. But, then, if his self-confidence has always been fragile in the great tournaments, it may be that finally a degree of personal security has come with this underpinning here of his brilliant Ryder Cup record - it now stands at 19 wins, eight losses and seven halves, and not one defeat in singles combat - and, as a consequence, the highest individual goals might come back into focus. It is also true that Jack Nicklaus won the last of his 18 majors at the age of 46.

This, though, is something that for some time will no doubt remain in the margins of an inevitably complex emotional future. For the moment it is maybe enough that Monty flies home from America now not as an easy target for ridicule but a deeply respected competitor, one indeed who yesterday was being compared extremely favourably with such home-bred golfing icons as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III.

That respect, which was underlined by one American commentator who predicted that Montgomerie's Ryder Cup history and success in Europe will surely carry him into American golf's Hall of Fame, was plainly a source of great personal satisfaction amid the team triumph. But it was equally clear that nothing was as important as the respect and the friendship of his team-mates.

"This was the first Ryder Cup in which I went to bed on my own," said Montgomery ruefully, "and that was difficult." However, Westwood, whose wife has just had a baby, was happy to go to last week's Gala dinner arm-in-arm with Montgomerie, who said, laughing: "We went as a couple you know." Neither the humour nor the sentiment appeared forced.

This, truly, was a team in the deepest sense. You could see it in the indulgence, and the tweaking, of the superbly gifted Sergio Garcia, who on the last day played the most crucial role when he turned back a sea of red at the top of the scoreboard and beat the troubled American demi-god, and reigning Masters champion, Phil Mickelson. You could see it in the rapport of Clarke and Westwood, who had delivered vital points - Westwood sharing the four-and-a-half point high with Garcia - and the panache of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Levet and the solid confidence of the rookies Luke Donald, Paul Casey, and David Howell. You couldn't ignore any of them, not the quirky Ian Poulter or the winning Irishmen Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.

But all the time you had to keep coming back to the unfamiliarly lean face of Colin Montgomerie, and be caught by the wonder of what he had done for his team - and, as he said, what they had done for him.