Woods can take Augusta heat, says Montgomerie

Abuse would only motivate Tiger, says US golf fans' former public enemy No 1
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The Independent Online

The European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie has backed Tiger Woods to thrive under the pressure when he returns from his four-month break from the game at the Masters next month. Montgomerie says his own experience of being cast as the villain made him stronger and he expects the returning world No 1 to be similarly obdurate in the face of any criticism from the galleries and the media about his private life.

Woods took time off from the game to rebuild his marriage after a late-night car crash outside his home in Florida sparked revelations of his infidelities, but the Scot is certain he will cope at Augusta.

"When I heard Tiger say that he is nervous to come back, that's the first time I've ever heard him say those words," Montgomerie told the Orlando Sentinel. "So it's very shrewd of him to have come back in the most controlled atmosphere possible.

"The patrons [at Augusta] are very knowledgeable and will respect him as the golfer that he is, and I think that there will be no issue at all. I think he'll get over his nerves," the Scot added. "I hear he's been up for a practice round already. He'll get over those nerves, and he will be as determined as anyone has ever been on a golf course to prove that he's still the No 1 player in the world, and in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game."

Talking about his own reaction to the fans' barracking, Montgomerie said: "At times in the 90s when I was No 1 in Europe and No 2 in the world to Greg Norman, I was the biggest threat, I suppose. [When jeered] you play accordingly. I sometimes got it wrong, but it did fire me up, there's no question.

"It's always just the minority that spoil it for the majority in any sense. But Tiger is different. I only got the spotlight when I came over here to America. He has a spotlight and has had it on him for the last 10 years. It's amazing how he has that control.

"He's been used to this most of his career. So I don't envisage my problems arising with that at all. He's the most focused sportsman I've ever known, and I think that he will adapt accordingly."

The European captain also backed the American to be competitive despite his protracted absence from the PGA Tour. "I think he wouldn't be entering Augusta if he didn't think he could win," he said. "Even in my much lesser state I took four months off at the back end of 1995 and came back and won my first tournament, the Dubai Desert Classic there in 1996, and he knows how to win. He will be in that – I'm sure he will be contending of some kind, and he knows how to win.

"It will be interesting to see how the other players around him react when his name is on that leaderboard again. It will be very different to see his name up there than some others. He has that aura about him, and it will be interesting to see if other players react differently now, or the same as they did. It will be very exciting times."

Montgomerie also believes the European golf audience will be less hostile to the returning American than his fellow countrymen. "I think we'll be welcoming him with open arms when he comes over for The Open at St Andrews. He's won in 2000 and 2005 and would start as a heavy favourite to do that again. We know that the crowd there will respect him, as they do at the Masters, as the golfer that he is."

Asked if the same rules applied at the Ryder Cup, where traditional golfing etiquette has sometimes been abandoned, the Scot reserved judgement. "Yes, as part of a team, it should be a little noisier than normal, but at the same time, we have a very knowledgeable crowd there at the Ryder Cup, and most of those Patrons, if you like, of the Ryder Cup, are members of golf clubs and respect the game.

"They are just very excited to have Tiger play as a professional in Wales for the first time. I just hope that he does play, because any tournament that is won against Tiger is worth an extra point. We do hope that he plays... and plays well."

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