The Open 2003

Monty mania mobilises the Troon army

The home hero: Pride of Scotland, driven by a desperate gallery, rides the storm and keeps his game together - just

At a little before three o'clock yesterday, the ungainly figure of Colin Montgomerie loped to the first tee. "C'monnn Colinnn," a raucous voice cried above the cacophony of acclaim.

At a little before three o'clock yesterday, the ungainly figure of Colin Montgomerie loped to the first tee. "C'monnn Colinnn," a raucous voice cried above the cacophony of acclaim, its conveyer, crimson-faced, whether from the sun's rays or from the pounding of a fanatical heart, and bearing a Saltire round his shoulders. Monty-madness has replaced Henmania in the British summer calendar. The Troon Army has never been slow in answering a call to arms, and it hailed him as one. Their subject acknowledged an appreciative gallery by touching a hand to his visor, and in the sporadic afternoon sun drove off with a venom, not to mention an unerring sense of direction, which suggested a determination to reward the unremitting faith of a nation.

Even as he did so, from across the Irish Sea, a squall approached menacingly, teasingly. An ugly, angry brute. For those in peril on the sea, the thought crossed your mind, as a ship, like a ghost, vanished from view in the far distance. On land, there was more concern for those in peril off the tee. After two benign days, the coming of the very element that Colin Montgomerie detests. When the wind gets up, Montgomerie winces. Yesterday began with a breeze but soon the wind and rain had all but the hardiest aficionado scurrying for cover. As for the player himself, we could only wonder which persona would reveal itself: the real Monty or Monty's cussed double, unsettled by all manner of authentic and perceived ills?

Scotland positively yearns for a Montgomerie triumph; aches for it as agonisingly as England does one from its own best-lovd son, Henman. Despite the capricious weather, which eventually settled down to merely gusting, Montgomerie maintained his followers' expectations, just. On the way out, he made no further progress, carding a level-par 36, but at least kept his game together. Tim may be nice, but damned to disappointment by a talent that never quite equals expectation; Monty, golf's equivalent, that perennial manufacturer of crisis from a drama, well, surely he possesses the potent force for victory within him? If only, in this period of renaissance following domestic upheaval, the newly-discovered Metal Monty wouldn't buckle, would he?

The Scot, paired with the Canadian left-hander Mike Weir, saved par from a greenside bunker on the second but caused consternation when he dropped a shot at the third, driving straight into the fairway bunker. He muttered something about "a challenge". It was already becoming one, particularly as the skies took this moment to change their mood. It could have been an expensive error considering that some further off the pace at the start of play - including, ominously, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els - were picking up shots. Yet Montgomerie responded defiantly with a two-putt birdie on the par-five fourth. Indeed, he was only narrowly adrift from an eagle with a 40-foot putt. He repeated the feat at the seventh.

The route back to the clubhouse threw all manner of hazards at him. Yet, he emerged from deep rough next to a gorse bush at the 11th, then managed to extricate himself from a bunker at the 14th - though the recoil despatched him against the back wall, leaving him on his backside but somehow still smiling to record 10 pars in a row.

If only he could have maintained that momentum. But at the 18th, just as on Friday, he contrived to spurn a four-foot putt, despite the the mental strength of a crowd willing him to succeed. He will require its partiality again today. "I'm praying for their help," he reflected, as he conceded: "I didn't play very well. I didn't hit many greens, but I got it round. The way I played, 72 was still a good score."

The atmosphere fairly crackles with his presence as his footfall rumbles up the fairway. During these first three days, his response to those who exhort him to achieve the ultimate prize has been jaunty. One could almost say jocular. That furrowed brow has loosened somewhat; those oft-hunched shoulders even occasionally raised in a cavalier stance. He will never quite surmount the belief that he has aged before his time. He has been middle-aged for years, despite being a relative stripling of 41. It must be something in the air. This is also Gordon Brown's birthplace. Yesterday a golfer who can rarely be said to be a politician was in conservative dark blue slacks and lighter blue pullover. In the sartorial stakes, this is Des O'Connor to Ian Poulter's Johnny Rotten.

Royal Troon is a carpet he has trod many times, and there must be something wonderfully comforting about wiping his feet on a mat which says "welcome home, son". Welcome to the practice ground where had learned to play golf for three and a half years. Welcome to the 18th fairway, adjacent to which was the venue of the wedding reception after his marriage to girl-next-door-but-one, Eimear, the woman he once described as "a wife in a million", but from whom he parted after 14 years of marriage three months ago.

Now he is back, with his memories and his regrets placed firmly, he insists, at the far recesses of his psyche. His immediate future is all that concerns him as he walks to the course every day from the home of his father, James, the former secretary of this club, half a mile away.

The amateur shrinks among us have been enraptured by it all. Has this tortured soul truly been released by domestic events so that he can concentrate on winning that elusive first major, and notably this one, at his 50th attempt? Is the return to a scene which offers such conflicting recollections - the happiness of his early life, and latterly the misery - cathartic? Or is his quest being undertaken on comforting terrain which is sustaining him when he might otherwise dwell morosely on the past?

Only he will know the answer to those questions. Either way, the sympathy vote is unanimous from this highly-partial electorate.

Even at five shots off the lead, it's still set up for an intriguing conclusion with the portents auspicious and today's weather, which is predicted to be "cloudy and very breezy", remaining relatively kind to the home player. Montgomerie is heartened by the fact that Justin Leonard was in a similar position in 1997 and "did not have the support that I am going to have."

He added, when asked how enjoyable an experience yesterday's round had been: "Anyone who says that this is fun is joking. They are having a laugh. This is a job, and a horrible one, but it may well be all enjoyable when one looks back on Sunday evening at around seven o'clock."

Montgomerie will keep believing. The only trouble is, sport is rarely that obliging.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin