Monty ready to marshall Europe’s golfing troop

After all the doubts over his taking part in the Ryder Cup, Colin Montgomerie finally confirmed his participation at the weekend. He tells Neil Drysdale how much he is looking forward to righting some of the wrongs still festering after the Brookline bust-up

IF golf is all about confidence then Colin Montgomerie is going into the delayed 34th Ryder Cup at The Belfry with a saturnine air.

It reflects the feeling among his critics that the Scot may prove a liability due to his recent injury worries, the loss of his once-habitual domination of the PGA European Tour and the grumbling monkey around his back from still never having secured a major tournament.

Never was PG Wodehouse more prescient than when he asserted: "It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine."

Smiling Colin has been a rare phenomenon of late, yet reality dictates that if Sam Torrance's European troops are to spring a surprise by beating the Americans in Birmingham, they will need Montgomerie to be as close to the height of his powers as possible.

And if that means him snarling at photographers and being distracted by the flapping of butterflies in far away fields, so be it. Because anything less than the form he has displayed in 23 previous Ryder Cup games and it's likely that Tiger Woods and his confreres will be carrying the trophy back to the United States next Sunday.

It's certainly true that, a few months away from his 40th birthday, he no longer inspires fear and loathing in opponents. But all the same, when it comes to the rigours of matchplay golf and the challenge of taming the Tiger, few observers would wager against Montgomerie not spearheading the European campaign in the heat of the 2002 Ryder battle.

Of course he knows it will be tough. It always is in these contests. But when I caught up with him last week, this inveterate competitor seemed 100% fired up for the mission improbable.

"I've been captain on the course, if you like, in the Ryder Cup. People have looked to me to be a leader and an inspiration to the rest of the boys and that is a massive motivating factor," said Montgomerie. "Even though I wasn't leading the points table last season, the team was still built around me and it has always been that way with the more experienced members. In the past, Seve Ballesteros did the job brilliantly. Then Nick Faldo. Now it's me and it's a good position to be in, to have the respect of your peers across the whole of Europe.

"Frankly I don't feel I am going to The Belfry with anything to prove. I am doing okay and I am confident I have the powers intact to do a job for Sam and that the American guys will have me marked out as somebody they really want to beat. "To be perfectly honest, I don't think we can regain the Ryder Cup if we don't all 12 of us perform to our peak, because we definitely found that out at Brookline in 1999, where we were in a commanding situation and the wheels fell off in the singles matches.

"Looking at our ranks, there is no single person miles ahead of the rest. It used to be that way. But now the 10th-best European is a lot nearer in ability to the second-best player and the rise in standards explains why we have improved our Ryder Cup performances in the last decade. Can we beat Woods, (David) Duval, (Phil) Mickelson and co? Why not? I'm utterly convinced we can do so otherwise I wouldn't be wasting my time driving up the M4."

Despite constant suggestions of a declining talent, Montgomerie figures highly in Torrance's plans and the final confirmation that he has recovered from back problems will see the 39-year-old paired in the foursomes with the resilient Bernhard Langer, and this frost-and-fire combination will be striving to continue their two-out-of-two record in previous cups.

So too, Monty's detractors should perhaps reflect that although his form in 2002 five top 10 places, including four top fives is less prolific than 2001 when he won two tournaments, he has hardly reached the stage of Ian Baker-Finch or Sandy Lyle, men for whom a once-lucrative profession subsequently became a heart-breaking tale of irreversible decline.

But above all, in terms of the qualities which Montgomerie brings to the Torrance party, there's the fact he thrives on the Ryder limelight, flourishes on the contest's innate nerve-jangling nationalism, and fears absolutely no one in this environment. Yes, amidst the daily grind of burning up parks courses and scorching to fresh milestones, Woods is more unyielding, whilst Sergio Garcia possesses more flair and Langer a clutch of majors, but in the seismic cauldron of Samuel Ryder's brainchild, with a million flashbulbs poised to capture every nuance, weakness and rhythmic kink of the 24 participants and rival skippers in Torrance and Curtis Strange, Monty's been there and seen it all. "I can still recall how terrible I felt when I made my debut alongside David Gilford in the first set of foursomes at Kiawah Island (the notorious War on the Shore) in 1991, but that was as nothing next to what was going through my head when I had to hit the opening shot in the 1995 match at Oak Hill. To this day, that remains the most gut-wrenching episode I have ever encountered on a golf course and this competition simply isn't designed for the faint-hearted.

"On the contrary....we are all dreading the notion we might let the other lads down. For 51 weeks of any year we are individual sportsmen and we only have ourselves to worry about, but come the Ryder Cup, there are 11 others in your colours dependent on you and that makes a helluva difference to your attitude."

Monty may have dwindled in stature from his period of supremacy in the mid-1990s, but he remains the cornerstone of Europe's aspirations and it is nigh inconceivable the underdogs will prevail unless he's at full throttle in his scheduled five appearances. Whisper it gently, but this might just be the moment when he seizes the spotlight anew with a vengeance in what promises to be his swansong to Ryder action in Britain.

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