If the class of a man is truly judged by his reaction to adversity then Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie are indeed being deemed worthy of their respective major hauls. The former has three; the latter has none. The former behaved like a champion after chucking away the US Open on Sunday night; the latter did not.
For while Mickelson signed autographs after attending the presentation to Geoff Ogilvy - the Australian winner - Montgomerie left the course, so earning a severe rebuke from the tournament organisers. But, by then he probably did not care too much as he had already been involved in a shoving match with a police officer, as well as having made a young lad cry by angrily throwing a tee-peg at him.
On one level, Montgomerie's actions were understandable, if not forgivable, as the frustration at the double-bogey at the last that spurned his finest chance ever of winning a major burned deep inside him. But America was not in the mood to feel any sympathy for the player who now has more second-places in majors (five) than anybody else in history who has not won one. And the charge sheet against him was pretty damning.
First to the New York state trooper who was escorting the family of another player to the Winged Foot clubhouse when he dared get in the big Scot's way. Witnesses say that Montgomerie pushed him and the state department yesterday admitted "a brief collision" had taken place.
It was the actions on the 17th tee which evoked most fury, however. Standing over his ball, Montgomerie noticed a boy to his right in the process of kneeling. Montgomerie backed off, glared at the young spectator and after wickedly slicing his drive hurled his tee at his target. It bounced off the shirt of the boy and the crowd became nasty. Up until this moment, the galleries had been cheering on the golfer they traditionally ridiculed mercilessly.
But it was not just the fans heckling. Walter Driver, the USGA president, bitterly referred to his absence at the awards ceremony. "While Colin Montgomerie has left, Phil Mickelson has shown the class of a real champion to stay on," said Driver. Yesterday, Guy Kinnings, his manager, claimed the USGA had given permission for Montgomerie to leave, although Marty Parks, the body's director of communications, said "podium finishers are always encouraged to attend".
By then Montgomerie was hurtling to the airport, no doubt pondering the final hole cock-up which was so reminiscent of Jean van de Velde's capitulation at Carnoustie in 1999. Just like the Frenchman, Montgomerie quite obviously deserved to win, but after a nerveless drive down the centre of the final fairway, the beloved fade with a seven-iron that has earned him so many millions over the years unfathomably deserted him and the ballooned push into the greenside cabbage made par a practical impossibility.
However, even then he unwittingly had a two-putt from the back of the green for a play-off with Ogilvy. "This is as difficult as it gets to take," said Montgomerie after three-putting. "You do wonder sometimes why you put yourself through it."
Mickelson was with him on that, so too Padraig Harrington, the Dubliner who himself would have ended Europe's US Open drought, which will now run to 37 years - if he had not bogeyed the last three holes. But it was the world No 2 who struck the most disconsolate figure in the clubhouse.
"I'm such an idiot," he said after his own double-bogey on the 18th that, if anything, was even more wretched than Montgomerie's. "As a kid, I spent countless hours practising and dreaming of having a par to win this. And it was right there in my hands, and I just let it go. I cannot believe I did it."
Nor could anyone else, least of all Ogilvy, whose incredulous smile at winning his first major as a highly rated 29-year-old must have rivalled that of Tiger Woods back in Florida watching on television. The world No 1 would have believed Mickelson was about to join him in the record books as the third player to win three majors in succession. He failed but surely two out of three ain't bad. In contrast, for someone of Montgomerie's enduring ability, nought out of 58 most definitely is.
Top five and prize-money
* 285 Geoff Ogilvy (Aus): 71 70 72 72, £696,000.
Jim Furyk (US): 70 72 74 70, £284,800
Colin Montgomerie (GB): 69 71 75 71
Phil Mickelson (US): 70 73 69 74.
Padraig Harrington (Irl):
73 69 74 71, £145,250.
Monty's major near misses
* 1994: US Open, Oakmont
Montgomerie, with a 78, loses 18-hole play-off to Ernie Els and Loren Roberts, who both shoot 74. South African wins on second extra hole.
* 1995: US PGA, Riviera
Montgomerie loses on first extra hole in play-off with Steve Elkington after Australian makes 25-foot birdie putt.
* 1997: US Open, Congressional
After "best-of-career" first-round 65, loses by one shot to Els after bogeying 17th.
* 2005: Open, St Andrews
One behind with nine to play, but loses by five to Tiger Woods.
* 2006: US Open, Winged Foot
Double-bogeys last to throw away best chance.
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