Monty must curb his careless talk

Peter Corrigan believes the Scot can win the US Open by quiet concentration
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The Independent Online
IF HE could avoid the temptation to make brash pronouncements as successfully as he avoids diets, Colin Montgomerie's final heave up to the highest level of accomplishment in world golf might require a little less puffing and blowing. As inevitable as is his eventual arrival among major championship winners, the moment will come quicker if he stops putting extra pressure on himself.

The statements Europe's leading money-winner makes when he is in the full grip of his confidence are not intended to be brash but that is the way they appear. He is one of the most refreshingly honest sportsmen when in the mood to reveal his innermost thoughts, but they have rebounded upon him too often for him to contemplate presenting anything but a bland and humble mouth in America this week.

It may already be too late. Before going to Germany this weekend with the publicly voiced intention of declaring war on Bernhard Langer he expressed his suitability for serious contention in the US Open, which starts at Shinnecock Hills on Thursday. Such words are apt to put Montgomerie's wincing admirers in mind of the summer of 1992 when he was at the Scottish Open and announced himself determined to strike a blow for his country.

On the last day, after establishing himself as a leading contender to become the first Scot to keep the title at home, he wore a sweater emblazoned with the cross of St Andrew. He stopped short of the Rob Roy kilt, but even so it was the boldest of visual statements and, sure enough, he looked certain to win. But even as he braced himself for the welcoming bagpipes, an unknown Australian called Peter O'Malley swept past him with two eagles and three birdies in the last five holes.

A year later, captaining the Scottish team in the Dunhill Cup, he offered the opinion that if his team did not beat Paraguay they might as well go home. There are more courses at St Andrews than there are in Paraguay but, sure enough, the South Americans won and Montgomerie made another shame-faced exit.

Last weekend at the Forest of Arden, a brilliant 63 on the second day of the English Open pushed him three clear of the field and he was at it again. "If I don't win from here, I'll be very disappointed," he said, adding that as the top money-winner present it was logical that he would win. Even the next day, when Philip Walton battled his way level, Montgomerie was still convinced. "I'm mentally tougher than I was. I know I can win from here." In a game as capricious as golf, these are not thoughts to allow into your mind let alone through your mouth. Walton beat him in a play-off, the fourth that Montgomerie has lost in his career.

He has won too many tournaments and too much money to be classed a choker. No man in Europe has progressed so swiftly over the past five years but pressure can attack the strongest character without needing any help from the echoes of one's own words. It so happens that this week's US Open at the wind-blown tip of Long Island is the major which he has most right to approach in a confident manner. Third in 1992, he lost last year in an 18-hole play-off against Ernie Els and Loren Roberts in furnace heat that did not help his cause.

There is far more in his favour this year, when the US Open celebrates its centenary, especially if he manages to keep his confidence behind the self- effacing platitudes that most of the leading golfers have seen fit to cultivate.

Unless Heaven intends to act as an outside agency again, this week's prize does not look likely to finish in the grasp of an American. The first major championship of the year, the US Masters in April, took a tearful and emotional leap into the arms of Ben Crenshaw who had helped to bury his aged coach and mentor, Harvey Penick, the day before the tournament and thenceforth appeared to be powered by the wings of fate. It was a sob story eagerly embraced by the Americans because in rewarding Crenshaw the angels had also thwarted the pesky Europeans, who had taken the Masters for six of the previous seven years.

When it comes to protecting the US Open from the attentions of the old continent, however, there has been little need for divine intervention. The calculating mortals at the United States Golf Association do it themselves by narrowing the fairways and doing evil things with the rough. The organisers are celebrating not only their centenary but also the 25th year since Tony Jacklin, the last European to win the tournament, triumphed at Hazeltine National.

Until Els flattened the defences of Oakmont last year, the exclusion zone had been global for more than a decade. The chances of another breach this year, and by a European, have never been greater, largely due to the nature of the Shinnecock Hills course, which is more like a natural British links than any other course in America.

When the event was last held there in 1986 it was joked that it was the first time the British Open had been held in America. Nevertheless, Europe got no nearer than Bernhard Langer's eighth place and the title was won by Raymond Floyd after Greg Norman let it slip. Norman has more courses at which to make amends than any other golfer but there is no doubting he is in good shape for this one. After a long lay-off he appeared fresh at the Memorial tournament in Ohio last weekend and won by four shots.

Els was nine shots back and does not appear at his sharpest. Nick Faldo finished with the same score as Els but needed the re-acclimatisation after popping back from the US Tour to play the PGA at Wentworth a couple of weeks ago, a visit he says he could have done without.

Faldo's decision to play in the US this year has already proved successful, with one tournament victory to his credit and a high place in the money list. But this is the event he wants to win. He has proved twice that the Masters can be won from a London base but he believes that a European needs a long period of conditioning over there to win the US Open and his performance will be the real indication of how successfully his exile has improved his game. To reinforce his chances, he has been at Shinnecock Hills since the beginning of last week.

Faldo, and everyone else with genuine aspirations to win, will have to beware of Langer, who is in firm control of his form but even in such formidable presences Montgomerie still gives off the aura of a man who feels that his destiny is close by. He has the game for the course and it will assist him considerably if he concentrates completely on the excellent opportunity this week presents and leaves the predictions to those who make a living out of looking foolish.

How and Why, page 2