Monty's art missed by American galleries

One of the conveniences of sending a postcard to Colin Montgomerie from here is that you don't have to labour over too many details. He knows every corner of Augusta National, and he loves all of it in a bitter-sweet kind of way.

One of the conveniences of sending a postcard to Colin Montgomerie from here is that you don't have to labour over too many details. He knows every corner of Augusta National, and he loves all of it in a bitter-sweet kind of way.

Maybe the problem is that he has loved it, as he has the idea of winning all the majors, a little too much, but you wouldn't want to crowd a short message to the banished Monty with that reality - no more than go over the old business of the extraordinary raising of the senses when you pass down Magnolia Drive for the first time after a year's absence.

It does happen to be true, however, and poignantly enough, that the course has surely never looked more hauntingly beautiful than it did from the terrace of the clubhouse yesterday.

Montgomerie, in view of his recent experiences, would get the picture more vividly than most: one of those Georgia mornings when the sun glints against the dogwoods and the azalea and even a strong man could cry as easily as though he was rereading a "Dear John" letter while listening to a smoky blues number by the home-town boy James Brown.

No, the point of a message to Montgomerie is twofold. One reason is the encouraging one that he is apparently being missed in the most unlikeliest quarter, the American gallery which has from time to time made his assaults on the Masters, the US Open, the USPGA and the Ryder Cup - which is golf's version of a date with the Spanish Inquisition.

The other is that the greatest golfer the world has ever known - which, as a matter of record, is of course still Jack Nicklaus - is planning to conduct here at the 69th Masters something which promises to be a full-blown seminar on how you can win 18 majors and still feel there is a little more to life than having someone slip a green blazer over your shoulders.

First, though, the upbeat message from the majority of those American fans who apparently winced down the years when they heard beer-toting compatriots ask Montgomerie such jeering questions as where he buys his sports bras.

Had he been given the special invitation to play here, rather than the obscure Japanese player Shingo Katayama, who brings mostly the weight of commerce - which many of the golf cognoscenti felt would have been a gesture of both decency and compassion to a man who has been such a colourful factor in golf on both sides of the Atlantic for the past decade - he would have been potentially the sixth-most popular winner.

Only three members of the "Fabulous Four", Tiger Woods, inevitably, Ernie Els, the American hero Phil Mickelson, plus the folk heroes John Daly and Fred Couples, are promised a bigger ovation than if Montgomerie had come through next Sunday afternoon.

Behind Montgomerie are rated David Duval, the machine-like strokeplayer who suddenly forgot how to play, the 65-year-old Nicklaus (no explanations for this one other than a spectacular case of mass amnesia), Davis Love III, Sergio Garcia and the world's current No 1, Vijay Singh.

Moral of the story? Maybe it is that things aren't always quite what they appear to be. Last year Monty was a parody of the optimistic golfer who always believed, and with compelling evidence, that he had the game to win a major. He walked the sidewalks of Augusta in the pain of futility and rejection. Yet here we learn that all those unavailing surges of promise in the majors, and brilliantly realised winning golf in the Ryder Cup, have indeed registered - and in a place where some thought the story of Montgomerie as a front-rank performer was just about over.

Perhaps the most telling message of all from Augusta this week, however, is the one of Nicklaus.

He is due to arrive here today for the champions' dinner and suggests that despite the tragedy of losing one of his 19 grandchildren, Jake, the son of Steve Nicklaus, in a swimming pool accident last month, he will on Thursday again be on the first tee for the tournament he has won six times, the last victory coming in 1986 when he was 46 - five years older than Montgomerie as he now fights to rejoin the élite of the game.

"You have to have something beyond golf; without that you can be just lost," Nicklaus says. "I realised that even before I won my first major title, and for me the most important thing has been my family. It has been my rock.

"As a golfer, winning has always been my main objective. But to be honest golf has never been the biggest thing in my life. Sure, did I want to win? Absolutely. Did I want to work hard? Yeah, I wanted to work hard. Did I want to be the best player I could be? Sure. I always wanted to be those things, but I never wanted that to be at the expense of my family and other things."

The main target of this advice is undoubtedly Woods, whose eight major wins makes him the only feasible challenger to Nicklaus's extraordinary mark. Woods, who is 29, recently married and some time before that Nicklaus had speculated on the effect of such a development. "What happens when he gets married and has kids? That changes you. There were plenty of times I didn't prepare like I should because I wanted to be with the kids. But in the end, you have to have some balance. You have to have something to fall back on."

The good news for Colin Montgomerie, with one marriage gone, is that maybe he has a little more to lean upon than he ever imagined. Next year, it is reasonable to suspect, he has a very good chance of being here. If he is, he should do what Walter Hagen said all pros must. He should smell the flowers - and maybe find time to send a postcard of his own.

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