- Bob Harig, Golf Writer, ESPN.com
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MARANA, Ariz. -- The smile was as wide as the Grand Canyon, and the victory nearly as big. For Colin Montgomerie, match play success will always be part of his career legacy. And taking down a top-ranked American makes it even sweeter.
The European Tour veteran knocked off Jim Furyk, 3 and 2, on Wednesday in the opening round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, sending the seventh-ranked player in the world home earlier than expected.
And Monty, of course, was delighted.
"I am," he beamed afterward. "Yes, very, very happy. I believe Jim Furyk, just after Tiger [Woods], really is one of the U.S.'s strongest match players, and the toughest guys to beat. His Ryder Cup record suggests that. And it was a very tough opponent to draw, I must admit.
"I enjoyed the challenge of seeing where I am, seeing where my game is, because you can put it up against a player that's ranked an awful lot higher than I am right now, and it's good that I can come out on top."
Montgomerie, 44, has 31 career European Tour titles, but is ranked just 62nd in the world and has not yet qualified for the Masters.
But match play in general and the Ryder Cup in particular have always brought out the best in Monty. He has played on eight Ryder Cup teams, a member of the winning side five times. He's played in 36 matches, winning 20 of them, against just nine losses and seven ties.
"He's such a competitor," said England's Paul Casey, a Ryder Cup teammate during the last two matches who defeated Robert Karlsson in the opening round, 2 up. "He finds a way to win. Certainly in the Ryder Cups, you can just see his passion for it. Nothing fires him up like a Ryder Cup. To me, that's entertaining. He's one of those guys who if I had to pick to make a putt, certainly in the Ryder Cup, he'd be my choice."
Although he has won a record eight Order of Merit titles -- including a stunning seven in a row at one point -- Monty will likely be remembered more for his Ryder Cup zeal.
His answer to a question about Furyk and the Ryder Cup summed it up.
"Believe me, I know exactly who I've played in the Ryder Cup," he said. "He's not one of the eight people I've managed not to play [singles] in the Ryder Cup."
Furyk's Ryder Cup record is an unimpressive 6-12-2 in five appearances, but that is mostly the product of playing on four losing teams. He is 3-1-1 in singles, his lone defeat coming at The K Club two years ago to Casey. Among those he has defeated are Nick Faldo and Sergio Garcia.
But Furyk struggled at The Gallery Golf Club, managing just three birdies. After Montgomerie lost the second hole with a double-bogey, he birdied the third to square the match and never trailed again. The match turned at the 12th hole, where Furyk had pulled within one after a birdie at the 11th. Both players were near the short par-4 after their drives, but Monty got up and down for a birdie while Furyk did not.
"I was expecting him to make 3 to get back to all square," Montgomerie said. "I had a difficult chip from the left-hand side for my second shot. I got up and down and he didn't. It's amazing how that was pivotal, to get back to 2-up. And then I holed a 50-footer at the 13th. So instead of thinking it was all square, 15 minutes later I'm 3-up. Pivotal? Yeah, hugely. But every game you can say that. You win 3 and 2 and you think, that's a safe win. But man, they're all very, very much closer than what you might think."
The victory was more than a boost to Montgomerie's confidence. He needs to be among the top 50 in the world through the CA Championship at Doral next month in order to receive a Masters invitation. Even a first-round victory here should help the cause.
And the Scotsman is planning to travel long and far to make it. After the Match Play, he'll head to New Delhi, India, next week for the Johnnie Walker Classic. Then it is on to Korea for the Ballantine Championship.
"Then I've got to fly from Korea to Doral [in Miami]; that's a good one," he said. "If I get there on time, I'll play Thursday morning. So I've got four large events coming up and then we'll see how we're placed going into the Masters from there.
"I go to bed thinking about it and when I wake up I'm thinking about it. I'm in a lowly place right now and I'm not very happy about that. I've got to get my finger out and get going. It's good that the world events carry a number of points, obviously more so than a normal tour event because everybody is here. It's nice that I've at least got through one round."
A second-round match against yet another American, Charles Howell III, looms on Thursday. But for now, Monty is simply floating on air.
Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Officially, it's the Accenture Match Play Championship, but with so many Europeans winning in the first round, led by Colin Montgomerie's satisfying victory over Jim Furyk, it sure looks like a Ryder Cup.