Another Cup for Europe's Monty

Updated: August 29, 2004, 5:40 PM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

The Ryder Cup would not be the same without Colin Montgomerie.

The European team needs him and Monty needs the team. It doesn't matter that he's never won a major or played poorly recently; he's arguably been the best on either side of the Atlantic during the past three matches.

And he always seems to raise his game come Ryder Cup time.

Colin Montgomerie
With a 4-0-2 Ryder Cup singles record, Monty gives the young European team plenty of experience.

So maybe it was a slam dunk when European captain Bernhard Langer picked him on Sunday to round out his team along with the other at-large selection, Luke Donald. Montgomerie will make his seventh straight appearance.

Perhaps Langer was going to pick Monty all along.

He talked about Monty's experience and his Ryder Cup record and his leadership ability. He mentioned the last six weeks and Oakland Hills, site of the Ryder Cup. And he discussed how Montgomerie played at the BMW International Open, where he could not earn a spot on the team, but only impress the captain.

"Colin gave us a great performance this week," Langer said in Germany, where he announced his picks. "To play that well knowing he had to show me something ... I'm very proud of him."

Maybe Langer would have picked him anyway, but it helped make the decision easier when Montgoemrie shot a final-round 68 and tied for third behind Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Levet, two players who had already earned a spot on the team.

But then Monty's record makes it difficult not to pick him. Despite constant taunting five years ago at Brookline, a situation that become so bad that the late Payne Stewart went into the crowd to try and quiet the offenders, Montgomerie battled Stewart to the final hole that day in a tense match. Stewart eventually conceded the 18th when the U.S. had clinched the Cup, and Monty claimed a 1-up victory.

Two years ago at the Belfry, Monty went 4-0-1 and was the star of the European team that whipped the Americans. Overall, in 28 matches, Montgomerie is 16-7-5, with a 4-0-2 record in singles.

And perhaps most prominent in Langer's mind is the fact that seven times he has partnered with Montgomerie in the Ryder Cup, and together they lost just once.

It doesn't hurt that Monty has had his best success in the U.S. at venues such as Oakland Hills, where he tied for 10th at the 1996 U.S. Open.

"Something tends to trigger me on Friday morning (at the Ryder Cup)," Montgomerie 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."

Then again, there were compelling reasons to not pick Monty. Since the last of his seven consecutive European Order of Merit titles in 1999, Monty has just six worldwide victories. His best finish in a major over that period is T-13. He wasn't exempt for this year's U.S. Open or British Open, barely surviving a qualifying playoff to make it to Troon, his home course.

And he has been beset by personal problems, which no doubt will incite some of the boors who will be in the gallery next month. That, alone, might have been a good reason to leave Montgomerie at home.

But there is too much history, too much moxie on his side. At his first appearance in 1991, an unknown Monty somehow managed a tie against Mark Calcavechhia in Sunday singles despite being 4-down with four to play. That half-point nearly made the difference in a match that wasn't decided until Langer's 6-foot putt on the final green missed.

By 1995, when the Europeans were winning in America again, Monty was a household name, well on his way to the third of seven straight European Order of Merit titles. He was coming off a playoff loss at the PGA Championship, and all the world knew of the talent he possessed.

Maybe Langer's decision was made even easier by the fact England's Paul Casey, David Howell and Ian Poulter, along with Ireland's Paul McGinley, earned the final qualifying spots on Sunday.

Maybe it was easier to pick Monty over Sweden's Joakim Haeggman and Fredrik Jacobson, who also came close to qualifying.

"Bernhard knows what I can do, because he's played with me in the Ryder Cup," Montgomerie said. "It's been a tough time for me recently and so this news is great news for me personally."

The beauty, for Langer, is that he wasn't groping for choices, but having to deal with some tough decisions. Jacobson finished 11th in the standings and his world ranking is better than half the team. There are five rookies, but veterans such as Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia. Montgomerie's presence should make for an even stronger European team.

One that wouldn't be the same without him.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ALSO SEE

MORE GOLF HEADLINES