Monty's perfect mix: field commander, cheerleader and a touch of mother hen

After a career of near misses, the Scotsman's passionate captaincy touched perfection – right down to the trust he invested in McDowell
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So often he has been the frailest of men, talented but subject to every gust of wind that blows into a life, tempestuous and argumentative but also as vulnerable as a lost boy.

Yet he found the moment for which it might almost be said he was born.

It came here yesterday when the Ryder Cup, which for long so has been the centrepiece, even the redemption, of a sporting life which had everything but a single ultimate success, became something that belonged to him utterly.

His touch, healing, imploring, jocular, domineering, was everywhere. Indeed, if Colin Montgomerie, aged 47, was a native of this Welsh valley rather than a now much honoured conqueror and guest, he would surely for ever be remembered as Monty the Golf, Monty the man who brought the great trophy back to Europe and did it with such passion – his word in almost every context of this winning crusade that stretched through four days of storm and, in the end, sunlit brilliance – that to call him captain of the European team seemed to state scarcely the half of it.

In truth, Monty was part field commander, part cheerleader and, above all, resident mother hen.

His strategy was sound, his selection of men and their places in the battle almost invariably touching perfection, and at the climactic point when his anchorman from Ulster, Graeme McDowell, delivered the brilliant putt that made victory inevitable, he shut his eyes for a second, drew a deep breath, then said: "We've done it – that's it."

His relief seemed to engulf the Usk Valley and that, given his huge commitment, was understandable enough because the Americans who seemed so beaten down in the bright morning in fact came determined to leave more than a little of themselves in the final 12 single matches, of which seven had to be won and one halved if the trophy seized in Valhalla, Kentucky, two years ago was to be retained.

The Americans finished just one half point off their target after victories for veteran Steve Stricker, who in the opening match beat Europe's most commanding player, world No 2 Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods and the previously lacklustre Phil Mickelson. They came so close, in the end because of the brilliance of a 21-year-old from Los Angeles, Rick Fowler, who finished with four birdies to draw level with Italian Edoardo Molinari.

That meant Fowler's team-mate Hunter Mahan also had to win half a point, against McDowell in the last match, but the Irishman ended Montgomerie's worst agony with a superb, nerveless putt on the 16th green. The captain embraced the hero and permitted himself a brief flash of self-congratulation, saying, "I knew what I was doing when I put Graeme back there. He is the reigning US Open champion and he is full of confidence. His putt on the 16th was unbelievable."

Almost merely par for the course, though, was the capacity of the Ryder Cup format to produce compelling drama. The golf authorities had run a gauntlet of criticism for their money, TV-oriented decision to play the match in Wales so late in the year and on a resort course plainly ill-equipped to drain such heavy rainfall in such a short time, but a combination of fierce support from the Welsh fans and some magnificent duelling from the players once again made the case for the Ryder Cup as one of the world's greatest sports events.

Montgomerie's contribution was massive right through to the last of the ceremonials, his victory speech being compared in the most glowing terms with the one his predecessor, Sir Nick Faldo, was obliged to make two years ago in America. Faldo's captaincy was misguided and heavily criticised from the start; Montgomerie's has proved, extraordinarily in view of a private and public life that has been markedly error-prone, stunningly sure-footed.

Butch Harmon, a leading American coach and golf broadcaster, could not have put it more emphatically. "The difference between the European team two years ago and the one this time is just enormous, and it is all down to Monty. He's been fantastic in every respect."

In the closing ceremony the man who became notorious for his short temper on the course, once at Wentworth berating a woman in the gallery unwise enough to rustle her shopping bag as he prepared to putt, brought the finishing touches to a faultless performance.

With the smoothest of timing he declared: "This is one of the finest moments, no, hang on, this is the greatest moment of my golf career. I asked these 12 players to give us passion and, by God, they did. I don't really want to answer any more questions because this is really about the players not me. You know, I never played a single shot these few days."

Where Montgomerie goes from this point of triumph is not entirely guaranteed, no more than had been any other of the phases of a career and life which could so quickly pass between glory and crisis. A winner of eight European Orders of Merit, he was also the golfer who five times had the chance to carry off a major title before being invaded by the demons that never seemed to be too far away.

Over recent months Montgomerie has operated under the strain of persistent rumours of impending, salacious revelations about his private life, but if there is indeed such a thing as grace under pressure there is reason to believe that here we have seen a somewhat eccentric but still outstanding example.

Montgomerie has often displayed a ferocious temper on the course and there was, perhaps understandably, a strong suspicion that when the tension mounted over the last few days it might once again blow. But it didn't. At some times he was more tense than at others; occasionally his demand for changes in the team and course organisation, including adjustments to the scoreboard, may have touched the manic. But there was never the fear that he might go veering off into his own difficult terrain.

He made his farewell with the promise that he would never re-appear in the role to which he had seemed so suited, and perhaps never more perfectly rooted in the right place at the right time.

"This is a one-time thing," he said. "I will not do this job again. It has been wonderful but it is a great job and should be shared around among some very good candidates."

When he said that you had to think of all the times his mood was in tumult, when his best hopes were crushed by some breakdown in his game or his personal life – and perhaps the occasion, at the US Masters, when he was required to tramp in the footsteps of a 21-year-old Tiger Woods who was on his way to winning his first major. Thirteen more followed for the Tiger – and of course there was a little tumult of his own.

Yesterday, however, it was Monty's time – and indelibly so. Padraig Harrington, a member of the team who has three major titles, maybe said it best when he declared: "Life doesn't always guarantee you your rewards, but all of the players wanted to make sure that Monty was given something he deserved."

Monty the Golf was a little overcome, more than at any time over these last few and arguably the best days of his life. "Thank you all," he said. It was, the best golfers in Europe made clear, entirely their pleasure.

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