John Huggan: Another fine Monty mess

"I know a lot of you are having a lot of fun right now at my expense." - Colin Montgomerie

The (at least for the moment) non-playing captain of the European Ryder Cup side spoke those words only last Wednesday, but they could have been uttered at almost any time over the last three decades or so. The harsh truth is that the enormously stressful - and surely legally expensive - situation in which he currently finds himself is nothing more than the inevitably predictable nadir for dear old Monty. For much of his distinguished on-course career in both amateur and professional golf, this contrary and oh-so complicated individual has been the target of off-course ridicule.

The latest and surely most serious episode in that catalogue of scorn has arrived courtesy of CBS television commentator David Feherty. During an interview on ESPN radio last week, the Ulsterman-turned-US citizen blurted out what the world of golf has been gossiping about for the past month: that Montgomerie is the latest high-profile sportsman to use an injunction to prevent a tabloid newspaper from running a story on his private life.

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From there, the story quickly "grew legs" and was soon being reported on prominent golf websites across the Atlantic. The mainstream US press then picked it up before it made its inexorable way into the UK newspapers this past week. All of which forced Monty to acknowledge its existence last Wednesday during a pre-USPGA Championship press conference alongside his American counterpart, Corey Pavin.

"Let me clear this up," he said. "I can categorically say that there's no injunction against the News of the World. I'm really not going to discuss this any further. All I can say is that there is no injunction against the News of the World regarding anything."

Later, another reporter asked Monty if an injunction had been taken out against a former girlfriend, but not Jo Baldwin, with whom the Scot acknowledged having an affair earlier this year. Perhaps significantly, a direct answer to that particular question was not forthcoming.

"Excuse me," said Monty. "I'm here to talk about the Ryder Cup, OK. So please, no further questions on that or any other subject regarding anything - or anything regarding my private life. By definition, that is private."

Of course, Monty should be used to it all by now. Even long before his beautifully rhythmic swing and hard-nosed competitiveness under pressure saw him dominate the European Tour throughout the 1990s, his larger than life persona made him a popular target for the wittier members of professional golf's travelling circus. "Billy Bunter" and "Mrs Doubtfire" (the invention of his "pal" Feherty) are just two of the less flattering, albeit light-hearted, nicknames that have come the way of the eight-time European No.1.Even earlier than that, during his time as one of Scotland's most prominent amateurs, the now 47-year-old became the hapless victim of inverse snobbery. A public schoolboy (he attended Strathallan in Perthshire) from an affluent and somewhat puritanical background and not helped by an accent that instantly betrayed the fact that he mostly grew up outside his native land (in Leeds, to be exact), the young and posh Montgomerie was an easy punchline for those in search of a cheap laugh.

Indeed, he still is. Only a couple of weeks ago, a former team-mate of his in Scottish amateur sides of the early 1980s regaled me with a tale that included a teenage Monty's first taste of alcohol, an excursion to a seedy Glasgow nightclub where his companions had to claim he was mentally handicapped in order to save him from a beating, much lager-induced vomiting and, the next morning, a brutal hangover that was only made worse by a severe telling-off from his loudly irate father. Typical of so many Monty stories, it was simultaneously very funny and a little cruel.

On the other hand, however, so much of the abuse aimed his way over the years has been self-induced, especially in the self-important and downright nasty way he too often treats people he clearly deems less than worthy. Only last year, by way of typical example, Monty expertly displayed his long-held and rather obnoxious superiority complex when publicly embarrassing an innocent cameraman from Sky television with the ultimate in arrogant putdowns: "You're only here because of me."

Such is the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Montgomerie personality. One minute he's charming; the next moment churlish.

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For better or worse though, Monty has always had something to say, even on those occasions when he would have been well advised to keep his mouth firmly shut. Driven by his inherent and rampant narcissism, he has amply filled the sort of column inches usually reserved for golf's major champions, many times providing desperate journalists with "a story" on otherwise empty days on the links.

Still, none of the above has prepared the game for the sort of sordid stooshie in which Monty is currently embroiled. The big question now - quite apart from the implications for his two-year-old second marriage, to Gaynor - is whether he can survive as Ryder Cup captain.

Can a laughing stock really command the sort of respect required of any leader of men? Will this latest episode be the final straw for a group of players already being asked to forgive and forget the notorious controversy of Monty's misplaced ball at the 2005 Indonesian Open? Tough questions with no easy answers, even if Monty has spoken to "a number of players" who have apparently told him that there is "no issue at all". Such a verdict is, of course, wholly unrealistic.That last bit, in fact, also seems more than a little disingenuous coming from a man who recently indulged in what some would see as mild gloating on the subject of Tiger Woods and the world No.1's own well-publicised marital difficulties.

"Turning up at Celtic Manor could be one of the hardest things Tiger ever does," said Monty. "He will worry about how the wives of the other players will react to him. Some of them might find it hard to welcome Tiger back into the group."

If a beleaguered Monty does have to resign as Ryder Cup captain through sheer embarrassment if nothing else, none of the alternative options are wholly satisfactory. All three assistants - Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley - would surely be happy to step up, but only if promised a second stint in charge two years hence. With the position of skipper worth a reputed 1 million over the 24 months of its tenure, no-one in his right mind is going to pass up the guaranteed chance to earn that sort of cash.

A far more likely scenario is that a former captain - or two - would be asked to take over. A combination of, say, Ian Woosnam and Sam Torrance could be relied upon to gee up a presumably by-then bemused and bewildered squad that, whatever happens between now and 1 October, the opening day of the matches at Celtic Manor, will start strong favourites to regain Sam Ryder's famous old trophy.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that. But funnier things have already happened.

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