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Colin Montgomerie fears raucous American crowd could mar Ryder Cup's return to U.S. soil

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

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Justin Leonard is mobbed after sinking a birdie putt in the 1999 Ryder Cup. (Getty Images)

Europe's golfers have been warned to expect a hostile reception in suburban Chicago this week in what promises to be one of the most fiercely contested Ryder Cups in the competition's long history.

Former Europe team captain Colin Montgomerie, who captained his side to victory over the United States two years ago, fears that the unfortunate scenes that marred the 1999 and 2008 versions of the event could be repeated at the Medinah Country Club.

"What you find is that playing away from home in America when they want the [Ryder Cup] back is a difficult place to have to play golf," Montgomerie told British reporters. "I do hope that everyone realizes that and allows the Europeans to play to their potential. Unfortunately, on the Sunday of the Ryder Cup in 1999, that wasn't available to us."

The "Battle of Brookline," as the 1999 competition became known, created lingering tension between European and American players that carried over onto the regular Tour for several months. Current Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal and his teammates were furious when the entire U.S. team stormed the 17th green after Justin Leonard holed a monster putt during singles play – with Olazabal's attempt still to come.

[Related: FedEx Cup proves Tiger's closing act no longer an open-and-shut case]

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Colin Montgomerie (Getty Images)

Montgomerie himself was the target of such serious abuse from the Massachusetts crowd on the final afternoon, with jibes about his weight and looks being hurled from the gallery with regularity, that his father Jim left the course rather than hear any more.

That ugly scenario reared its head again at Valhalla four years ago, when a Kentucky crowd frustrated by three straight Ryder Cup defeats provided hell-raising for the home team, especially Southerners Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes, but also overstepped the mark with offensive comments directed at Europeans such as Lee Westwood.

"There is a risk," Montgomerie said, when asked if he expects the European team to run the gauntlet once more. "I think the world changed. I mean the Ryder Cup and sporting events, when America played internationally, changed since 9/11.

"America realized we were their allies, their great allies, but that was 11 years ago and time moves on. Everything moves on, and I have a slight fear that it is going to be very difficult for us Europeans to perform to our potential in a very difficult place to be.

"I just hope that nobody is so-called targeted in the way that some particular players were in 1999. I hope those days are behind us and the etiquette of the game shines through and not anything else."

Medinah is widely-regarded as having a knowledgeable golfing gallery and the fact that many on the European team, such as Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, are popular in the U.S., may take some of the edge out of the patriotic crowd.

But even with that factor taken into consideration and with former Northwestern University star Luke Donald more of a local than anyone on the U.S. team, the Europeans will be taking no chances.

"[Olazabal] won't be going into this match in a false position of thinking that, just because Luke Donald lives in Chicago and the Americans like McIlroy and Westwood, it's going to be easy," said Montgomerie. "This is the Ryder Cup; this is different."

The Ryder Cup is indeed a very different beast than your typical golf tournament and the pressures are unlike anything else in the sport. Even the most unflappable of players can come unstuck, like Hunter Mahan who flubbed his chip shot at the 16th hole in losing the decisive match to McDowell in Wales two years ago.

Mahan broke down in tears afterwards and was consoled by, among others, Tiger Woods, who himself has failed to transfer his individual exploits into the team format, going into this event with a 13-14-2 record in six Ryder Cups.

While sportsmanship may prevent the Americans from publicly encouraging their countrymen to agitate their rivals, they probably wouldn't mind too much if it transpired that way.

Westwood admitted he had been severely distracted by the comments leveled at him four years ago, describing them as "fairly nasty and pretty shameful."

He knows better than most that with national and continental pride at stake, golf's genteel customs sometimes go out the window.

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