Major failing for Europe's No 1

Golf: Andy Farrell looks at another almost fulfilling season for Colin Montgomerie
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At the start of the 1995 season, Colin Montgomerie was interviewed by Peter Oosterhuis for the Golf Channel, an American cable station. Having twice in succession won the Harry Vardon Trophy as leader of the European money list, Montgomerie expressed the hope that he might go on to equal Seve Ballesteros's three-in-a-row record.

Oosterhuis, a predecessor of the big man of European golf, is too modest and unassuming a soul to have started an argument on camera. It was left to the caddies to put Montgomerie right on his history. Oosterhuis took possession of the Vardon Trophy between 1971 and 1974. Now, Monty can claim to be Oosty's equal.

Comparing eras is not often useful; comparing wage packets even less so. Oosterhuis earned around pounds 70,000 for his four years work, Montgomerie will have broken the pounds 3m barrier by the time his pounds 150,000 bonus is added at the Volvo Masters in a fortnight. He will also surpass pounds 5m in career earnings and if he wins the event, will break the pounds 1m mark for the season.

"I am proud of myself," Montgomerie said. "I have maintained my record of improvements every year."

Since finishing 52nd on the money list in 1988, he was then 14th, fourth, third and third again before hitting the No 1 spot. Now the measure of improvement is in his earning rate. In 1993, he averaged pounds 25,570 for each of his 24 European events. This year, from what will be 18 tournaments, he has almost doubled that figure.

Montgomerie has seen off all comers. In 1993, he won the Volvo Masters to pip Nick Faldo. A year later, both Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer were contenders, while last year Sam Torrance never gave up hope until the last afternoon of the season. This year it was Ian Woosnam, who had already won twice, before the Scot teed up in March. Was he worried? "No," came the firm reply. Monty promptly won his first tournament, the Dubai Classic. "That impressed me," he said. "And I'm not easily impressed."

Although this year will be the first in which Montgomerie has gone to the end-of-season finale with the title secured, five weeks ago he still trailed Woosnam, who had added another two wins. Deficit was turned to profit with a run that included a win (his third of the year), a second and two fourth places. Woosnam, and his dodgy back, were finally silenced at the German Masters last week. "My golf over the last five weeks has been decisive," Montgomerie said.

This current spell has been achieved without the aid of his long-term coach, Bill Ferguson, whose client base has extended to include Woosnam, Paul Broadhurst and Darren Clarke. "It's only a sabbatical," Montgomerie said. Consultations about next season will start later this year. He has been working with Harold Swash, a putting specialist. "I am putting better than ever," he confirmed.

Through it all has stood Alastair McLean, his faithful caddie, who has learnt to ride at the roller-coaster of Monty's emotions. Only a couple of months ago, the Scot flew home early from the USPGA Championship, having missed the cut in his second successive major.

The goal at the beginning of 1996 had been to win a first major, but he only contended in the US Open. As one player said: "He is putting so much store in winning a major, if it doesn't happen quickly, as in Mission: Impossible, he is going to self-destruct. He needs to calm down and relax."

Those spectators who have suffered his glare, and worse, would agree. So does Montgomerie. "I have the technical expertise to win a major, what I need is the mental expertise." Like Greg Norman, the only man ranked above him on the Sony world ranking, his losses are as memorable as his wins.

Twice this year he has been beaten by last-round 64s from opponents. Twice, too, he has let himself be blown away by gales at The Oxfordshire and Carnoustie. The night before he won the Irish Open, he ran off a catalogue of disasters. "It's been a year of adversity," he grieved. But a momentous one, too.