Monty cashing in his chips

Tim Glover on the slim-line version of the Scotsman now golf's world No 2; 'I was putting on half a stone a year and it was getting a little bit out of hand'
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Colin Montgomerie had just won the European Tour Order of Merit for the third year running. He enjoyed a celebration lunch with the men from Callaway, the men who had persuaded him to play with their brand of clubs. Then somebody showed him a copy of Golf World. Big Monty, who is not renowned for having the benign spirit of a saint, hit the roof.

The magazine article likened him to Billy Bunter. Montgomerie picked up the phone, spoke to the people responsible and finished the conversation with the remark: "You're all a bunch of wankers." It was, possibly, the making of him. Having got that off his chest, he proceeded to spend the next three months getting it off his waist. There were other cheap shots. In America they called him Mrs Doubtfire and this newspaper once said that he had a face that looked as if he had eaten a thousand chips. But the Billy Bunter thing seemed to be the last straw.

Montgomerie went on a crash diet, has gone down from over 17st to 15st and last Sunday announced his return to championship golf by winning, in outstanding fashion, the Desert Classic in Dubai. At the last hole, needing a birdie, he played a shot over the lake that might have come from the SAS handbook: he who dares wins. Played one, won one and all of a sudden he is No 2 in the world rankings. The only thing he has not won, although he has twice been beaten in play-offs, is a major championship.

Yesterday the not so Big Monty, 30lb lighter and pounds 108,000 richer from his excursion to Dubai, signed a three-year deal with Marriott Hotels. The Forest of Arden Country Club, near Birmingham, is one of their acquisitions and will host the Alamo English Open in June. Montgomerie won here in 1994 and was defeated by Philip Walton in a sudden death play-off last year. As part of the deal Montgomerie, with the former Walker and Ryder Cup player Michael King, will make amendments to the Arden course here.

"I've cut out all the fatty foods," he said. "Chips and pizza, all that sort of stuff. I'm more confident about my appearance. There were certain times when I was not comfortable." Specifically, Montgomerie mentioned the US Open Championship in Los Angeles last year when he lost a play- off to Steve Elkington. When the temperatures get high he tends to go the colour of beetroot, although at the time nobody questioned his golf.

He has been working with Bill Ferguson, the Ilkley coach and the man who seems to have transformed Ian Woosnam's game. Woosnam, who has had a five-week start on Little Monty this year, has won twice and currently heads the Volvo European rankings from Montgomerie. Montgomerie, who has always been regarded as an excellent putter, has been working on his short game with Ferguson. "My chipping and putting was the key to my victory in Dubai," he said. "Nobody's ever holed every chip or putt so there's always room for improvement."

He will spend a month in America, with the Masters at Augusta in three weeks' time his primary objective. Most of the holes at Augusta National require shots fashioned right to left, and as Little Monty tends to hit the other way round he does not regard the Masters as the major he is most likely to win. Not that that means he thinks he cannot win it. "Confidence- wise," he said, already sounding like an American winner, "things have never been better''.

Unlike his role model Nick Faldo, Montgomerie has no intention of joining the US Tour. He will play 20 tournaments in Europe, seven in America. "I'm in no rush to leave the European Tour," he said. "I'm in no rush to leave a winning position. Playing here is not hurting me in trying to attain my goals."

Montgomerie is managed by Mark McCormack's IMG and the only surprising thing is that they have not yet rushed out a Monty golf book - something along the lines of Greens with your Tea - on how to lose weight. "On tour, when you eat at different times and you're in different countries, it's very difficult," he said. "I was putting on half a stone a year and it was getting a little bit out of hand. It had got to the stage when I had to start eating properly. I should have done this three years ago."

The Oxfam shops in Surrey are rejoicing. Monty has cleared out his wardrobes and hundreds of sweaters, shirts and trousers are now being sold for charity. The only snag is that they come in one size: extra large.