Monty's motto is home rule

THE 126TH OPEN: Ayrshire suits Montgomerie's game but provides a host of painful memories for a former champion
A strange thing happens when Colin Montgomerie packs his bags and heads for the Open Championship. No one has proved that an alien spaceship abducts and replaces him with a clone every July but they might as well do for all the use he is.

Four missed cuts in five years would not be something to boast about by any professional golfer but when you are regarded, quite rightly, as one of the best players in the world, that record is little short of a gross embarrassment. To describe Monty's record as mediocre would be to run the risk of being charged with gross sycophancy.

Which is extraordinary considering what he does across the Atlantic. Put "US" in front of Open and the Scot is in contention (two seconds and a third); leave the word on its own and the only thing he is in is a fast car heading away from the course on Friday night. Hot and cold, it could be two golfers playing.

So you could say Monty, 34, is under the weight of failed promise this week. Years of being built up as Scotland's brave only to fall on his own claymore are reason enough for a decent show at Royal Troon this week but he is, to risk an outbreak of singing, coming home. If he cannot perform well here then he might feel inclined to give up the Open as a lost cause.

Montgomerie, whose father James is secretary at Royal Troon, grew up alongside the course and his house was about 150 yards from the 18th green, so if local knowledge has any bearing this week then he will be at a significant advantage. Furthermore he is playing at what he describes as an unprecedentedly high level. Britain, Scotland and Troon expect and, frankly, they have every right to.

"I would be under more pressure if I wasn't playing well," Montgomerie, whose sole light in a murky Open past is an eighth place at nearby Turnberry three years ago, said. "I feel I'm capable of doing very well here and I've looked forward to it since it was announced the Open was coming here seven years ago.

"I don't feel under any pressure in any shape or form. The word `pressure' is mentioned mostly by the likes of the media and the more people mention it, the worse it gets. So we just avoid the word from now on, OK?"

Almost by habit, Montgomerie is at the Open Championship fresh from a good performance in America. He finished second to Ernie Els in the US Open at the Congressional last month but rather than brood over another near miss his form since has been better than satisfactory. A closing- round 62 won him the Irish Open 10 days ago while his 10th place at Loch Lomond on Saturday did not drain him as much as full-blooded contention would have done.

"Immediately after Congressional I was disappointed, yes," he said, "but looking at it afterwards I took a very positive view of the tournament. That's why I've played well since. I didn't lose; Ernie Els won and all credit to him for that. That was as good as I can play and if someone beats you all you can do is shake his hand and say `well done'."

Montgomerie himself seems mystified by his failure at the Open although he agrees he has left his best form behind at the Scottish Open (which used to be played the preceding week) before now. He is not wholly comfortable when the wind blows, which is the usual condition at a links course, either and there is also a chance that his body suffers a reaction to the expectation he places on himself at the US Open.

At Troon, however, he feels the wind problem might be nullified by his 18 years of playing the course and he genuinely believes his form has travelled with him from the States. "It might favour me if it remains breezy," he said wholly at odds to his usual thoughts, "because I've played the course in all types of conditions.

"I'm playing possibly the best golf of my 10-year pro career and obviously I'm hopeful about performing better than I've done in the past at this tournament. I know what I'm doing round this golf course. It's just a matter of trying to go out there and prove it."

If he does he will fulfil an ambition that has stirred within him since he walked past Royal Troon - which would not let him on the course until he was 16 - to play at the the neighbouring course of Portland. "It would be the ultimate sporting thrill," he said. "It's something any child growing up in Ayrshire would look forward to.

"I try not to think what it would be like coming up the 18th with a clear lead on Sunday but it would be the best feeling I could ever think about. This, to me, is home. It is where my family are, where my wife is from. This is it as far as major championships are concerned and it will be until it probably comes back here in seven years time."

Now, if the real Monty can turn up too...