- Associated Press - Thursday, September 30, 2010

NEWPORT, WALES (AP) - The man must love the sound of his own voice.

Colin Montgomerie will talk about almost anything: his personal life, a lifelong struggle with weight, the merciless heckling from galleries in the States, a record of heartbreak and failure in the majors (0-for-86) that might have broken a lesser competitor.

All that remained Thursday for the man whose legacy will be defined by the Ryder Cup was the most important talk of his life.

“This is without question the proudest moment of my golfing career,” Montgomerie began his speech at the opening ceremony.

“As each of you takes your place as a player at Celtic Manor,” he said a moment later, addressing the European team arrayed behind him, “know that your name will be written into the rich history of the Ryder Cup forever.”

But none of the dozen golfers on either side may have more at stake than Montgomerie.

Despite winning 40 tournaments around the world and leading the European Tour’s money list eight times, Montgomerie’s oh-fer in the majors means his reputation in the game will rise or fall on his Ryder Cup performance. As a player, he couldn’t have done much better, posting a 14-9-5 record during team play in eight cups and never losing a singles match.

Only Nick Faldo has contributed more points to his side as a player _ and even that might not have been so had Faldo made his fellow Brit a captain’s pick at Valhalla two years ago. So when someone asked whether losing this one as a captain might tarnish his sterling record, Monty was quick to wave the question off.

“Not at all. Not at all,” he said, before joking, “I’ll still hold the record of not having lost a singles match.”

The truth is that Montgomerie wears his heart on his sleeve so often that it could be mistaken for a sponsor’s logo. In a 1997 singles match at Valderrama against Scott Hoch, when the Europeans already had clinched, Monty refused to concede a putt at the final hole until then-captain Seve Ballesteros showed up and shamed Monty into settling for a half. When the golf shoe was on the other foot two years later at Brookline, Mass., he fussed and fumed on the 18th green until the late Payne Stewart gave Monty a 25-foot putt and a meaningless point along with it.

At least Montgomerie comes by that bit of insecurity honestly. Everything from his diet to his clothes to his facial expressions have been grist for the tabloid mill.

“He’s a little bit more relaxed this week, I think. His mood swings are less,” said Lee Westwood, selected by Montgomerie for the honor of hitting Europe’s opening tee shot on Friday.

“Having played with him at his peak at the end of the ‘90s, he can be up and down quite a lot. But I think this week, because whatever he does is directly influenced onto the team, I think he wants to be on an even keel, and sort of nice and calm,” Westwood added. “I see that in him a lot more this week.”

Great players, though, don’t always make great leaders and even before the teams arrived, Montgomerie sounded a contradictory note about what his contribution should be.

On the one hand, the Scotsman groused it was “overplayed, since we never to get to hit a shot.” But he quickly followed up by saying, “Look at the recent history of the event, and it is the team whose captain gave the best speech who start well the next day and set the tone for the match.”

By his own scoring, Monty got Europe off to a quick lead, if only because Corey Pavin, his U.S. counterpart, inadvertently left one of his 12 players out of the original introductions. After skipping Stewart Cink, Pavin started back to his seat, realized his gaffe and then returned to the microphone, asking the crowd to give Cink a “special, special welcome.”

Afterward, Monty tried to be gracious.

“That was just unfortunate, but I think he was very, very good in covering his tracks,” he said.

But the competitor in him couldn’t resist.

“We,” Montgomerie said with the hint of a smile, “are 1-up.”

___

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Pres. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org

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