Colin Montgomerie has reason to smile after Ryder Cup

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On a late September morning atop an old, plushly grassed-in potato farm here in the British Midlands, two clear signs made one attentively aware the long day ahead at the 34th Ryder Cup would be nothing short of extraordinary.

For one, the sun was shining, which in itself is enough to launch a full-scale Weather Channel investigation across the U.K. And secondly, Colin Montgomerie, the first man out of the blocks in singles, was – gasp! – could it be . . . smiling? Enjoying himself? Playfully interacting with the commoners, even interrupting a morning practice session to let some bloke from the stands have a swing?

Mirthful Monty? Oh, my. Beware the apocalypse.

If 40,000 partisan fans at The Belfry had been moved to stage a makeshift election Sunday, it was evident who their new mayor would be. “I just wish he could bring it to a major,” Eimear Montgomerie said of her hubby’s new image.

Colin Montgomerie – the temperamental, mercurial monster whose mood at times can range as torrid and chilled as a steel hot plate – was a different, invigorated man at these Ryder Cup matches.

There is something about the pursuit of that tiny 17-inch chalice put forth by seed merchant Samuel Ryder that seems to evoke Montgomerie’s first-rate best, and for the third consecutive Ryder gathering, it was Monty who stood tallest, unbeaten in five games. In 82 holes, he never once trailed.

“Monty was magnificent,” said teammate Thomas Bjorn. “Thank God he doesn’t hole that many putts every week.”

Montgomerie, whose short-stick woes caused him so much bellyache that he decided to adopt a belly putter, was nothing short of princely on the greens of The Belfry, equal parts Bobby Locke and Ben Crenshaw.

Against Scott Hoch, he sent an early message by rolling in a 35-footer for birdie at the opening hole, eliciting a crowd response so vociferous that it sounded like the Rolling Stones playing Wembley.

“I was shocked and shattered by it,” said Monty in that distinctive Scottish brogue. And he clearly, mischievously, set out to fuel the home crowd again and again, leaving jockey marks on poor Hoch’s side. (“We had a little score to settle after Valderrama,” admitted Hoch, alluding to his halved singles match with Montgomerie in the ’97 Ryder Cup. “I was ready for him, I thought. He was more ready for me. I don’t want any part of him over here.”)

Monty was ready, period. Following two stellar days of team play, a majority spent alongside fellow veteran Bernhard Langer (the synchronized German who may have been competing in his final Ryder Cup), Montgomerie hoisted Europe’s blue colors upon a giant board near the ninth and 18th holes, signifying a Sunday lead for the home team. With 11 matches behind them and the U.S. singles lineup card stacked in the back, the Euros, much like their de facto leader, were in front for good.

For captain Sam Torrance, this wasn’t the first time he stood on the 18th green at The Belfry with his arms raised toward the heavens in triumph. He did so as a player in 1985, when Europe captured the cup for the first time in 28 years. Europe, the little team that could, also celebrated in 1987 (on U.S. soil at Muirfield Village), in 1989 (at The Belfry, in a 14-all tie that retained the Cup), in 1995 at Oak Hill and two years later in Spain.

You get the picture. On paper, it always seems to be the ’27 Yankees against some bleak, scruffy Double-A team. On grass, though, it’s a totally different story. This time, Torrance joked that the United States may have a Tiger, but he has 12 lions.

In the case of Europe’s most recent conquest, it could be as simple as one team simply playing better in Sunday singles – usually a format owned by Uncle Sam. If golf were that uncomplicated, Bob Rotella and Dick Coop wouldn’t have so many clients.

The Euros, who travel together, room together, eat together and drink pints together, relish one another’s company. The team’s post-match news conference was a veritable comedy show, filled with hearty laughter and lively give and take between players clearly comfortable shoulder to shoulder.

Sergio Garcia tried to answer a question, but Pierre Fulke had turned off his microphone. The 22-year-old Garcia mimicked Torrance by saying the Ryder Cup was the best thing to happen to him – other than his marriage and the birth of his child. Ba-dum-pum. When the Euros sang Monty’s praises, they actually sang Monty’s praises. As one. Eight different countries, bound as brothers.

When it comes to team unity, for whatever reason, it’s just not our cup of tea. We have a hard time just getting two guys to go to the World Cup. Does the Ryder Cup mean more to Europe than it does to us? You bet. Young golfers from California and Florida grow up dreaming about holing a 10-footer to win the Masters or U.S. Open; golfers from Scotland and Ireland and yes, even Denmark and Norway, dream of one day holing the putt that delivers the Ryder Cup into Europe’s arms.

This time, the clinching putt belonged to a guy from Dublin, and we’re not talking Ohio. Next time, it very well may be a bloke from Paris – and probably not the one in Texas.

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