Monty trips on threshold of personal dreamland

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The Independent Online

Make no mistake, 2005 is intent on being anything but boring in the life of this particular 42-year-old. First there was the divorce that just will not be settled, then there was "Jakartagate", the controversy that will simply not die, and now there is the Volvo Masters, the tournament that point-blank refuses to be put to sleep. How Montgomerie happens to be standing level with Sergio Garcia going into today's final round will long baffle all who didn't quite believe what they were seeing here yesterday.

Because for so long this had looked the Montgomerie of old and the Montgomerie of old always knew exactly what was around the next dogleg - a third Volvo Masters trophy, an eighth Order of Merit title and a cheque for £450,000 with his name written on it. Well guess what? Life changes, and so do the simple things.

And it had been so familiarly straightforward up until the 17th. Here we had been witnessing the rebirth of the European Tiger who could apparently win at will again. Five effortless birdies had hurtled him to 13 under standing on the 14th tee and with his Spanish playing partner the nearest on seven under what could possibly stop him? A few dashes of Garcia, that's what, mixed in with a whole half-pint of the wobbles. "Six shots is nothing around here," Montgomerie said later. "Not even to me and I'm one of the better players." But it wasn't so much complacency that did for Montgomerie down that penultimate hole of danger as the complete erosion of self-belief that has plagued this once indestructible ego since his last Order of Merit triumph in 1999.

After seeing Garcia birdie the 15th and 16th to close to within three, Montgomerie laid up in two at the par-five, as he has done all week, to leave nothing but a flick of the wrists into the green. Some flick, some wrists - plop. The wedge came up well short, and wet, into the lake guarding the green. "You don't even want to know the yardage," he barked. A double-bogey seven was all he could hope for, although Garcia's missed five-footer for birdie meant he still held the lead.

But not for long. Garcia played one of those magical recoveries down the last that perhaps only a certain compatriot called Severiano Ballesteros could ever have the chutzpah to dream of. The excitable Garcia of yesteryear would have run all the way up that final fairway watching this miracle shot's progression, just like he did at the US PGA Championship at Medinah in 1999, but the mature Garcia simply strode after it knowingly as it winged its incredible path around the tree directly in front of him to land within three feet of the pin. Birdie, 10-under, same as you Monty, time for the handshake. Rarely has one man's 68 looked so good next to his rival's 70. "Today's sure going to be exciting," said Montgomerie, his expression signifying he is not looking forward to it one bit.

It could be worse, though, a lot worse. He is still six shots clear of Michael Campbell in the race for the Order of Merit and this private battle is all over bar the gloating. "I just have an agenda to beat Cambo out here and I'm doing my job fine," Montgomerie said. In truth, his mind will have dismissed the threat posed by the New Zealander and will now be obsessed purely with Garcia, especially with a four-shot deficit stretching back to Paul McGinley, who was inspired in his 65 to grab a share of third place alongside Lee Westwood, after a 67, the spluttering defending champion Ian Poulter, and Paul Broadhurst.

It had been one of those Saturdays, the leaderboard moving in a frenzy, so much so that it could have been easy to miss the second bizarre story of the week. After his gutsy but largely irrelevant 68, Campbell was awarded honorary life membership of the European Tour as a reward for winning this year's US Open, but if that wasn't odd, nor unexpected, then his claim to play in the Ryder Cup most certainly was.

The Brighton resident has been living in Britain for 12 years, has an English son and Scottish ancestry; qualification enough, some other sports might feel. But as he has already played in the "other Ryder Cup", the Presidents Cup, for the "Rest of the World", then golf will undoubtedly decide his mission is as far-fetched as Jean Van de Velde's to play in the Women's British Open. "If I get dual citizenship then why not?" asked Campbell.

Valderrama was too breathless even to begin to explain.