Poor Monty. With any luck, that sentiment won't be Colin Montgomerie's destiny—to be forever known as Poor Monty, the best player to have never won a major championship.
Poor Monty. He has come so achy-breaky close so many times. With any luck he would already have won a major, maybe four. Last week he just missed winning the U.S. Open for the third time, leaving a trail of blood, sweat and tears across the rolling hills and ankle-sniping rough of Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda, Md. The burly Scot has been the leading money winner on the European tour for four straight years but still hasn't won a tournament in the States. Stuff happens to Poor Monty, like the bizarre incident on the 16th tee last Friday. Monty was under the weather, suffering from a bit of the flu, and jittery about his failing game. All day he had been chirping at photographers, spectators and anyone else who dared to move, speak or exhale, and when a fan shouted You da man! after Phil Mickelson's drive, Monty wheeled on the offender. Monty's round cheeks were red, and his bushy eyebrows looked like two caterpillars about to race down his nose. "Cut that out!" he ordered.
"I'm sorry," answered the startled fan.
"No, you're not," Monty said.
"Yes, I am," the fan said.
"No, you're not. You're not sorry at all," Monty scolded.
The spectator, now irritated, finally said, "You're right. I'm not."
By Sunday, though, the Sympathy Meter was wavering in the red zone for Montgomerie. He had played well enough to win the 97th Open. Usually, rounds of 65, 67 and 69 on a tough course like Congressional are good enough. They weren't this time for two reasons: Monty's uncharacteristic 76 on Friday; and Ernie Els, the soft-spoken South African who finished 67-69-69, making remarkably few mistakes, possibly because he has no discernible pulse.
Like Tom Lehman, who has led the Open after 54 holes for three straight years but still hasn't won it, Monty always appears to be poised to win. When he came off the course at Pebble Beach in '92, Jack Nicklaus shook his hand and congratulated him on winning his first Open. It was all Monty could do to keep from going into a Heisman Trophy pose. Nobody figured that Tom Kite, playing later in the day, would be able to surf the wild winds and win. In 1994 Monty's closing rush in the Open at Oakmont at first seemed too little, too late. Then Els forgot to check the scoreboard at the 72nd hole and had to scramble for a bogey, which led to a Monday playoff between Els, Monty and Loren Roberts. Heavier back then, and wearing dark clothes because it was his only clean outfit, Monty melted in the heat and Els won. In the '95 PGA, Monty birdied the last three holes at Riviera—no mean feat—to get into another playoff, this time with Steve Elkington, who promptly ran in a long putt to win on the first extra hole.
Last week felt as if it might be Monty's even before the championship began, or at least he thought so. The man is not shy. "I think it goes without saying that all U.S. Open courses suit me," he said on Tuesday. "I drive the ball straight. I love this form of golf, where you have fairways 26 to 34 yards wide and heavy rough." As for pretournament favorite Tiger Woods, no problem. "Tiger was very comfortable playing Augusta," Monty said. "Here, his greatest asset, length, is taken out of the equation, which gives us mere mortals more of an opportunity to compete. The playing field is more level here than at Augusta. I believe he's 5 to 1 to win and 5 to 1 to miss the cut, although I'd rather have 5 to 1 on him winning."