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MONTY: A MAN THEY LOVE TO HATE

Every great play needs a foil, a villain. Someone to stir the emotions.

It should not come as any surprise that Colin Montgomerie has taken over that role for the 33rd Ryder Cup matches.

If anyone else accomplished what Montgomerie has in the first two days of the these matches, the focus would be squarely on his play. His work would be hailed. He would be receiving nothing but praise. His career, and his reputation, could not help but receive a huge boost.

That still might happen with Montgomerie. But with him it's a lot harder. It always seems harder with Montgomerie when he plays on this side of the Atlantic.

As far as American fans are concerned, Monty is the ugly European. He's the guy the fans love to hate. And, because of the way he deals with the fans, it only gets worse. In addition to being a tremendous golfer, Montgomerie long has been dour and combative, too.

All of which stands in marked contrast to everything else that has taken place at The Country Club. Several incidents involving Montgomerie have rekindled unpleasant incidents of Ryder Cups past. As has been the case before, Montgomerie has only made the situation worse with his actions and words.

There were minor problems on the first day of competition. There was one incident in which Montgomerie had to back away from a shot after a fan began heckling him. It got worse Saturday.

Montgomerie was on the sixth hole in the morning foursomes matches, ready to take an eight-foot birdie putt. He had gone through his preshot routine and was addressing his ball when someone shouted something unpleasant. Montgomerie had to back away and, as he did, there were other yells from the fans, aimed not at Montgomerie, but at the person who had been such a jerk.

Montgomerie backed away, regrouped, then rolled in the putt to win the hole. As the ball fell into the hole, he pumped his fist, looked into the crowd at the guy who had yelled at him, and, with a snarl on his face, pumped his fist again.

It happened again on the ninth hole, although not quite as bad. Once more, Montgomerie had to back away as he prepared for a putt because of a catcall. Again he regrouped and made the putt.

Montgomerie has made a lot of putts like that. He's hit great iron shots and, as usual, been as steady as a rock with his driver. On a team with seven rookies, he has done a marvelous job stepping into the role of much needed on-course team leader. He has more than lived up to his reputation as the leading player in Europe -- he is on his way to his seventh straight first-place finish on the European Order of Merit -- and his position as the fourth-ranked player in the world.

He and fellow Scotsman Paul Lawrie have won 2 1/2 points and might have earned the biggest point yet when they came from behind, thanks in large part to Monty's four birdies, and beat Tiger Woods and Steve Pate in the afternoon four-ball competition Saturday.

No one doubts Montgomerie's play, which has included 22 victories in Europe.

"He's a wonderful golfer in every way. He's shown it many, many times in a lot of different places," Ben Crenshaw, the U.S. captain said of Montgomerie. "You could say a lot of things about him, but he's a tremendous golfer."

It's his personality that irritates and brings on the catcalls.

He has had several run-ins with fans in U.S. Open play. Two years ago, in the Ryder Cup at Valdaramma, he made a crude remark about Rhode Island's Brad Faxon, referring to Faxon's then-recent divorce as a reason the American team was having problems. Faxon says Montgomerie later wrote him a letter of apology. Faxon says he has since grown to like Montgomerie and calls him "a nice guy."

But Monty somehow seems to put his foot in his mouth. And he does a thorough job of hiding his nice guy side on the course.

"Colin's a wonderful player," European captain Mark James said. "The players look to him for inspiration and leadership."

Just about everyone has enjoyed what has happened this weekend. Everyone except the one guy who should be enjoying it most, Colin Montgomerie.

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