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Monty's made for match play

Both saluted and scorned by those who have watched his life play out, Colin Montgomerie was for years Scotland's best golfer, Great Britain's best golfer and certainly Europe's best golfer when it came to the Ryder Cup.

The fact that those in Great Britain have often built him up and torn him down has made for a sometimes-unpleasant existence. But you can bet there will be all smiles for now and in the run-up to next year's Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales.


Montgomerie, 45, on Wednesday was named captain for Europe's Ryder Cup team, one that will try to take back the famous trophy next year after the U.S won last year for the first time since 1999. No doubt he will relish the role.


That's because the Ryder Cup always brings out the best in Montgomerie.


Despite his shortcomings in the major championships, Monty has been a major player at the biennial competition, for a time the best on either side of the Atlantic. His overall record is 20-9-7, and he trails only Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer for most points won by a European player.


"Something tends to trigger me on Friday morning [at the Ryder Cup]," Montgomerie once said. "I think there is a patriotism, but it's hating losing, really. I've always enjoyed a match-play situation more than I ever have stroke play."


Perhaps that explains Montgomerie's great success on this stage -- and relative lack of it in the major championships.


Monty has 31 European Tour titles and won the European Tour Order of Merit (money title) eight times, including seven in a row from 1993 through 1999 and again in 2005.


But he never has won a major championship, twice the hard-luck loser in playoffs. He fell to Ernie Els at the 1994 U.S. Open and to Steve Elkington at the 1995 PGA Championship. And there was his double-bogey finish at the 2006 U.S. Open after a 7-iron approach from the fairway. That left him in a tie for second, a shot out of a potential playoff, but his slide was largely overlooked because Phil Mickelson had a more unsightly implosion.

And for all his talents as a golfer, he has been known as much for all the fodder in the British tabloids, his relatively poor record at the Open Championship (just two top-10 finishes), his run-ins with the media, rabbit ears with fans and even a cheating allegation at a 2005 tournament in Indonesia.


Perhaps the flaws have made him a sympathetic figure at home, which is why his countrymen boisterously supported him during a runner-up finish to Tiger Woods at the 2005 Open played at St. Andrews.


And they are well aware of the abuse he has taken in the United States, which was one reason it was important for him to be named the captain in Europe rather than when the Cup returns to the U.S. in 2012. Perhaps the most notable example came at the 1999 Ryder Cup, when fans' taunts grew so bad that Montgomerie's father walked off the course after only a few holes. Montgomerie ended up winning that match when his opponent, the late Payne Stewart, conceded it on the 18th hole after the outcome of the overall competition had already been decided.


But, of course, those back home have been known to be quick to turn on him, too.


Montgomerie was born in Troon. (He was once dubbed "The Goon from Troon.") It's where he hit his first golf shots, where he was married and where his father, James, became secretary at Royal Troon Golf Club. There is a practice course next to the famous Troon links where Monty hit his first shots.

Montgomerie's family moved to England before he was 5, but later, his father took on the Troon post. And after Monty returned from college in the United States -- at Houston Baptist -- he settled in Troon, where he met his first wife, Eimear.


The couple had three children, but after 14 years, they went through a very public split in 2004. The British tabloids had a field day with the story, linking Eimear to actor Hugh Grant while chronicling Monty's misery. It would have been easy for him to retreat, and his game did fall off dramatically. For the first time since 1990, he was not exempt for that year's Open -- so he endured qualifying but still managed to make the field.

"I think time is a healer, and you get on with things, and that's what I've got to do," he said at the time. And Monty -- who remarried last year -- did. (He tied the knot with Gaynor Knowles, the widow of a furniture tycoon.)


Monty was chosen for the 2004 European Ryder Cup team by captain Langer and ended up holing the clinching putt in a rout over the Americans.


He did win a tournament that year, and another in 2005 at the Dunhill Links Championship.


But controversy followed him nonetheless -- and surely will be a subject for his detractors going forward.


An incident at the 2005 Indonesian Open called into question his character, as he was, in essence, accused of cheating.

After lightning suspended play during the tournament in Jakarta, Montgomerie failed to mark his ball, leaving it near a bunker. When he returned the following day, the ball was no longer there, so Montgomerie conferred with his playing partners, Arjun Atwal and Thongchai Jaidee, for the best position to replace the ball.


Television replays, however, later showed Montgomerie played the ball from a position that was about a foot away from where it should have been. It appeared his stance, which would have been difficult to take before the delay, had become favorable.


But the tournament referee ruled there would be no penalty. After later reviewing the tape himself, Montgomerie felt uncomfortable with what he had done. Although the tournament results were final, he donated his prize money, about $45,000, to charity. And he thought the matter was closed.


His peers on the tour, however, kept it an issue. They had a players meeting several months later, and Montgomerie was reprimanded. Some called for his rankings points to be returned and suggested his prize-money donation was a sign of guilt.

Montgomerie later said he had "not been happy with myself because the ball obviously was not in the same place." But does that mean he intentionally placed the ball in the wrong spot? Remember, the referee said it was OK.


Some of his peers have remained cool to Montgomerie ever since, which could be a cause for concern, although few in Europe could suggest Montgomerie is not deserving of his honor.

"Monty is quite good off the golf course in the players lounge and that," Ireland's Padraig Harrington said recently. "He's always got an opinion. He's always got something to say. So I think most of the younger players can relate to him. He's around, as everybody knows. You have to move away from him on the range, he talks so much.


"But he's a tough competitor on the golf course. I think the young guys, certainly the guys who are in contention for the team and would know him reasonably well, would all get on with him. He's quite an interesting person. Sit down and have a chat with him, you'll be entertained for half an hour.


"I think we need to put our absolute best foot forward at the time, and I believe he is the man for the job."


Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.