Monty overdoes the death stare as his game deserts him

Scotsman scowls and growls his way round links in vain search for vintage form
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The Independent Online

If looks could kill, by lunchtime yesterday there would have been bodies strewn across this lovely stretch of Ayrshire links land; the corpses of photographers, journalists, marshals, caddies and indeed spectators.

Colin Montgomerie had just signed for a 74 to leave him outside the projected 36-hole cut at five over par, and in the untidy process of assembling it he spared hardly anyone his notorious death stare. It was a good job Sandy Lyle didn't cross his path.

By reheating the old allegations that Monty cheated at the Indonesian Open four years ago, Lyle, bitter at being gazumped for the Ryder Cup captaincy, has given the drama of this championship an intriguing subplot. Following yesterday's round Montgomerie again cited the controversy as an extremely unhelpful distraction, adding that he'd heard Lyle expressing the hope that the comments hadn't jeopardised his, Lyle's, chance of being appointed Ryder Cup vice-captain. "I thought that was very, very funny," Monty said, flashing one of his Colgate smiles but actually looking about as amused as a man with chronic toothache.

It is just as well that Montgomerie has the Ryder Cup and other people's golf games to think about, because his own game is in a dreadful slump. He hasn't had a top-10 finish for more than a year, and there is a gloomy possibility that the short putt with which he completed a bogey five at the 18th yesterday could be his valedictory blow in an Open Championship. He qualified to play here by just sneaking into the top-30 money-winners on the 2008 European Tour. But he is nowhere near the top 30 this year, which reduces the routes to St Andrews for the 2010 Open. Someone should suggest, standing well back of course, that if he wants to be there he might consider taking a job as a photographer.

There is, in fact, more chance of Prince Charles designing a futuristic chrome office block with its plumbing on the outside. Photographers are a reviled species to Monty, who on the ninth tee took exception to a snapper lying prostrate and motionless in the official vantage point. Nobody else over the course of the first two days here had been troubled, as was intrepidly pointed out by a woman holding a "Quiet Please" sign. "It was all right for Tiger Woods yesterday," she dared to tell Monty. A scowl was her reward.

It remains one of the mysteries of golf that a man capable of such beguiling charm off the course can be so spectacularly charmless on it. Monty smashed his tee shot on the ninth into deep rough, so deep that at first neither he, his caddie, nor the marshals, could find it. The spectators watched the search sympathetically from the other side of the ropes.

Monty glared at them. "You can help if you'd like to," he said, the implication being that they didn't have to stand there being quite so useless. A few minutes later he galumphed off the green with a six on his card, and as he made his way to the next tee, a man called out, plainly in a spirit of encouragement rather than provocation, "Well done, Colin". Rather like a juggernaut, Montgomerie came to a juddering halt. His eyes bored into the hapless spectator. "I've just double-bogeyed the hole, mate," he snapped back. Rarely did anyone feel less like Monty's mate.

A fellow named Lyle notwithstanding, Montgomerie is truly his own worst enemy. His drive on the 12th found a bunker, and his escape shot found another bunker. He watched in stupefaction. "Unbelievable," he muttered, but it's a fair bet that what he couldn't believe was not the inadequacy of his own shots but the audacity of the bunkers for getting in the way. On the 17th tee he ventured to the caddie of his American playing partner, Zach Johnson, that the blustery wind with which they had had to contend all the way round, had now dropped. "Unbelievable," he said again. Then, just before he addressed his ball, an over-enthusiastic marshal yelled at the crowd to stand still. Another glare from Monty, and a little shake of the head, as if scarcely able to comprehend the myriad ways in which the human race conspires to make his life more difficult.

In an episode of Fawlty Towers, Sybil Fawlty once referred to her mother's many irrational fears: "Vans, rats, door knobs, birds, heights, open spaces, confined spaces... footballs, bicycles, cows... men following her..."

Thus it is with the things sent by the forces of evil to disturb Monty's concentration. "People, aeroplanes, wind, rain, sand, loud noises, soft noises ... vans, rats, door knobs, birds..." In some ways it seems like an act of mercy that the 36-hole cut has put him out of his misery.