COLIN Montgomerie can’t believe Hank Haney wasn’t gagged over his spell working for Tiger Woods but he still reckons the 14-time major winner could yet have the last laugh after being fired up by his former coach calling him The Big Miss.
Speaking ahead of next week’s Masters, where he will be part of the Sky Sports commentary team, the Scot claimed management mistakes had opened the door for Haney to write his book about Woods that went on sale earlier this week.
Along with Rick Smith, who has worked with Phil Mickelson among others, Montgomerie doesn’t agree with Haney breaking a player-coach confidentiality and insisted that most people are “not interested” in the tittle tattle that has been leaked in recent weeks and is now fully out in the public domain.
With a perfect sense of timing, Woods delivered his own response to the book being launched as he ended a 30-month title drought on the PGA Tour by winning the Bay Hill Invitational last weekend and is now favourite for the season’s opening major at Augusta National next week.
Montgomerie believes Woods has already shown that he’s been unaffected by what Haney has had to say about him and, instead of hurting his former employer, has only succeeded in fuelling his main ambition as he bids to kick-start his bid to overtake the 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus. “It is a shame the book has come out this week and, though the timing was obvious, it is difficult for everyone,” said the Scot, who was amused to find himself conducting a conference call from the privacy of a store room at Glasgow Airport as he waited to board a flight to Abu Dhabi.
“I’m amazed, to be honest, that there wasn’t a contractual agreement in place that didn’t allow him to write about a player. It’s like a Premier League football manager losing their job, yet we’ve not seen many books written about what led to that due to legal arrangements being in place.
“I also don’t think it is right for the book to have happened in the first place. No-one is interested if Tiger pays for a meal or not. I think it is very poor. But Tiger has already put up with all the bits from the book that have been put out by Golf Digest and I don’t think there is anything that will majorly affect him.
“He’s put up with more in the past and he’ll just be more determined than ever, especially over the the name of the book – The Big Miss. Well, he was a big hit at Bay Hill.”
Montgomerie played with Woods in the third round when he won his first major at Augusta National in 1997, a feat he has repeated three times since, most recently in 2005. He was mesmerised by the American’s pace putting on that occasion and reckons Woods showed in his five-shot win at Bay Hill last Sunday that’s he recaptured his silky touch on the greens.
“The thing I was most impressed about last week was his putting,” added the 2010 Ryder Cup-winning captain. “It’s nothing do with how he hits the ball. In all of his 72 PGA Tour wins, in every one he has putted better than the field.
“Personally, I’d like to see him going back to the putter he used to win 13 of his 14 majors but he certainly putted well with the one he was using at Bay Hill. When he won his first major in ’97, his pace control was crazy. His control of putts in those conditions was sublime. He had that at Bay Hill and if he has it at Augusta he’ll be right there. That’s also why Jose Maria Olazabal, Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer all won twice at Augusta – they were all great control putters.
“I wouldn’t say that Tiger is going to dominate [next week] the way he did in ‘97 or at Pebble Beach in the US Open in 2000 [when he won by 15 shots], but there is no question that he is going there this year intending to contend rather than just compete, having finished fourth in the last two years. It is great that he is back winning from a marketing sense for golf and this is going to be a major to savour.”
Appetites have certainly been whetted, not just by Woods returning to winning ways but the likes of Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson all warming up for Augusta as well with PGA Tour triumphs in the opening few months of the season. There’s also the added spice of McIlroy, the US Open champion, returning to the scene where he blew a four-shot lead in the final round last year.
“After his meltdown last year, I think he put his demons to rest at the US Open,” said Montgomerie of the world No 2. “[But] I hope he hits as many shots as possible at the tenth in practice and get rid of what was just a poor shot at the wrong time [the wayward tee shot that sparked a back-nine collapse].”
As for the top-ranked Donald, Montgomerie reckons he’ll be delighted to see the spotlight turning on McIlroy and Woods, letting him go about his business as normal. “He’s the forgotten man really and that’s a shame,” said the Scot, who is looking forward to sharing the Sky Sports studio with Jack Nicklaus on the first day. “But he can use that as a positive advantage. It’s all about Tiger and Rory, but Donald can win. He plays his own game and isn’t interested in what anyone else is doing. He plays chess with the course and he does it very well. If you ask him for 68, he’ll find a way of doing it.”
• Colin Montgomerie will be a studio guest and commentator for live coverage of the Masters on Sky Sports. The event is the first of three Majors to be shown live on Sky Sports HD this year.