Monty, Faldo must mend fences

Martin Rogers

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Colin Montgomerie's second wedding – to girlfriend Gaynor Knowles on April 19 – promises to be a grand and joyous occasion. The event will be staged, fittingly, at beautiful Loch Lomond in Scotland, in front of a guest list that has reached 300 and is rising fast.

Friends of Montgomerie say they have rarely seen the eight-time European Order of Merit winner happier and expect him to surge back up the world rankings (from his current position of 56) in 2008. After all, it is a Ryder Cup year, the event that never fails to bring out his optimum form.

However, there are mutterings that Europe's chances of retaining the trophy at Valhalla, Ky. could rest upon the relationship between Montgomerie and skipper Nick Faldo.

Faldo was openly critical of Montgomerie's conduct during the recent Seve Trophy in Ireland, accusing him of failing to attend three team meetings. Montgomerie took offense, especially when he felt his commitment was questioned.

He will never be Faldo's No. 1 fan, but instead of using his media conference Wednesday at this week's Target World Challenge to take shots at the six-time major champion, he instead explained how he is committed to working things out for the good of the team.

"Let's hope the ambience of our team remains as it has done during our success, meaning we go in there relaxed," Montgomerie said. "We have got to, because I think this will be as tough a Ryder Cup as we have ever played. I have spoken to Nick and it is fine. It doesn't concern me."

Even so, there is likely to be some friction from September 19-21. Faldo is not particularly diplomatic, nor is he "one of the boys." He will find it difficult to deflect pressure away from his charges in the way Sam Torrance, Bernard Langer or Ian Woosnam managed.

Yet if younger members of the European squad like Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Paul Casey, all of whom regard Monty as something of a father figure, see him trying to get along with Faldo, then they, too, are more likely to toe the line.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Montgomerie will be chosen if he fails to finish in Europe's top 10, but given his outstanding record in the competition, it would be pure folly on Faldo's part not to give him a captain's selection provided he puts together a respectable season, personality clash or not.

On Wednesday, Montgomerie put his Ryder Cup success (23.5 points in eight appearances and an unbeaten singles record) down to a preference for match play, which forces him to putt more aggressively. But there is more to Monty – much more.

His willingness to break up cliques based around nationality and mesh together different elements of the European team is just as valuable as his on-course work.

All he has to do now is qualify.

Some debate whether the 44-year-old is most effective when he is brooding and moody, or full of joy. It is hard to see how Montgomerie's current optimistic and contented outlook on life won't reflect positively on his scorecards.

In Wednesday's pro-am at Sherwood Country Club, he charmed his group of amateur partners, including Janet Gretzky, wife of hockey legend Wayne, with his relaxed disposition.

Montgomerie's father James, who attended the pro-am, said his son is full of excitement for what 2008 holds on the personal and professional front.

A booming Montgomerie shot that went down the middle of the fairway elicited an awestruck response from Gretzky, who exclaimed: "God Colin, you're good!"

Monty replied: "Well, it is my job. I hit the ball. It's all I know how to do well."

Thankfully for Europe, when it comes to Ryder Cup time, that's not all he does well.