Win elevates Monty's Ryder Cup status

NEWPORT, Wales -- So many times in a career filled with achievements, Ryder Cup and otherwise, Colin Montgomerie hit the nervy shot, holed the crucial putt.

On Monday at Celtic Manor, all he could do was watch, helpless.

Graeme McDowell closed out the 2010 Ryder Cup as a fretting Monty stood along the 17th green of the Twenty Ten course, sending all of Wales into hysterics and tears down the cheek of the European captain.

By the narrowest of margins, Europe had regained the Ryder Cup from the United States after the weather-plagued event was sent to its first Monday finish, saving the best for last.

Not until McDowell held off Hunter Mahan was the overall match decided. Only then did Monty add another piece to his already formidable Ryder Cup legacy.

"I didn't hit a shot, so it wasn't much of an achievement," Montgomerie said during the champagne-soaked celebration afterward. "But at the same moment, it's a proud, proud moment for me personally.

"It means the world to us. … It means the world to European golf. As I said in the press room many, many times, it means nothing to me. I just did this for the European Tour, and I'm so, so glad that we won."

Comments such as those have elicited their share of rolled eyes in these parts.

To those who have followed the Scot for the majority of his career, his words were almost comical. Of course the Ryder Cup has been personal. You could say it has defined his career, and there would be nothing wrong with that.

The truth is, Montgomerie, 47, is immensely proud of his Ryder Cup record, his unbeaten status in singles, his role in so many European victories. His winning captaincy is now an extension.

"I'll probably be called Captain Useless if we lose," he said several weeks before the matches.

Such is the nature of the Ryder Cup, especially over here, as harsh that might seem.

There is simply a different level of passion, intensity, interest and angst over the Ryder Cup in Europe. It is an enormous source of pride -- and money -- for the European Tour, and the captains who embrace that ideal and get their players to buy into it are typically revered.

"He's been brilliant," said England's Ian Poulter, who went 3-1 in this Ryder Cup, including a 5 and 4 victory over Matt Kuchar on Monday. "He's been awesome. He's been a really good captain.

"Monty's Monty. He's passionate. He wants to win this thing. He spent two years of his life dedicated to this trophy. It's on home soil. He drove us very hard this week, as well he should."

The role of the captain is often overstated -- Monty's players are the ones who got it done -- but you do have to admire the high regard he had for the job and the manner in which his players responded.

"Monty has been as fired up as anyone on this team this week," said McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champion. "He has been so desperate to get us charged up going to that first tee. He's been asking us to go out and do a job for him."

That they did, although it turned out to be by a thrilling conclusion. The Americans made a game of it Monday, winning six matches and tying two others. They needed just one more tie to bring the Cup back to America. Or one win in place of a tie.

That is why in a rarity, Monty was left speechless as the final tense moments unfolded.

And why his Saturday plea to his players, when they had fallen behind in the matches, meant so much in the end.

"I'm just telling them how good they all are," Monty said. "That's all I can do. The motivational tapes are on in the lounge when they come in. They see themselves lifting trophies; they see themselves holding putts. All I can do is give them passion. Their motivation is there, as I've said all week, from losing two years ago. Now it's all about the passion here, and want. They have got to want this, and by God, they do."

In the end, it is the players who determine the captain's place in history, and Montgomerie can thank the likes of Luke Donald and Lee Westwood and Poulter and McDowell for helping to make him look good.

Likewise, U.S. captain Corey Pavin's shortcomings -- perceived or otherwise -- will be cause for second-guessing, although it is more about what the players did or did not do. That's how it always is at the Ryder Cup.

Look through the U.S. lineup and find a place where the Americans could have turned a loss into a victory through the first three sessions, and you get an idea of just how thin the margin can be, how there would have been even more drama.

That, of course, is the word that best describes Monty's career on the course and off.

He was unknown in America when he came from 4-down to force a tie against Mark Calcavecchia at his first Ryder Cup in 1991.

It would be the first glimpse of amazing success in the team competition that never saw him lose a singles match while playing on five winning European teams and earning the third-most points in European history.

Although there were 31 European Tour victories and eight money titles, there were also disappointments in major championships, including two playoff defeats.

There were the occasional tussles with American fans, the bouts of sensitivity and rabbit ears, the moodiness.

And, of course, there was the tabloid fodder. Monty provided his share of that, with a high-profile divorce from his first wife, the courting and marriage of a wealthy widow and even more recent reports -- which Monty acknowledged -- of infidelity.

That was far from his mind late Monday as Monty beamed before the still-celebrating fans at the closing ceremonies, some who bellowed "We love you, Monty!"

So how do you top this?

Montgomerie will play in this week's Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, a European Tour event that is played over St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. He assuredly will get a hero's welcome at the home of golf and undoubtedly will play on adrenaline.

Going forward, however, will be interesting. Montgomerie is stuck in a bit of golfing purgatory. He is not even ranked among the top 400 in the world and has not finished in the top 10 since June 2008. Since nearly winning the 2006 U.S. Open, he has played in 13 major championships, missing 10 cuts.

None of that mattered much in the Wales gloaming Monday night, as the curtain came down on the Ryder Cup.

"This is one of the finest moments … no, hang on," Montgomerie said for effect. "This is the greatest moment of my golfing career."

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