CHASKA, Minn. Colin Montgomerie saw the headline coming way before the man from The Sun, the U.K. tabloid, had even finished his question.
"It's been a while since you were the subject of uncomplimentary remarks from the galleries in the U.S.," the question began. "Now that you're Ryder Cup captain, do you think you might once again be the man that America loves to hate?"
"Well, I hope ... my word," he said, laughing before he continued. "No, I can't agree there."
He then recovered his composure and settled into a series of politically correct statements what a pleasure it is to come to the U.S., how the crowds are fantastic, etc. If there were any babies in the room, he would have kissed them.
Colin Montgomerie, the player, was trying his utmost to convince everyone at Hazeltine that he is here to compete. But at 46, he has become Monty, a statesman rather than a serious contender. The 214th-ranked golfer in the world had just returned from Switzerland, where he was part of the lobbying committee that presented golf's case to be included in the 2016 Olympics. A decision is expected on Thursday.
Monty, the statesman, is only in the field for the 91st PGA Championship because of the policy of inviting current Ryder Cup captains. And so on Wednesday he appeared, sporting a blue Ryder Cup polo shirt, for his first encounter with American reporters as captain of the 2010 European team.
There are 32 Europeans competing at Hazeltine, and Monty said he'll be watching their scores intensely over the next four days. He may want to ignore his own scores, however, judging by the experience of his practice round with Spain's Alvaro Quiros, one of Europe's bright young things and a potential Ryder Cup rookie next year.
"He kept driving it 70 yards past me," Monty said laughing.
Monty predicted that four or five Europeans would finish in the top 10, naming Paul Casey, if he plays, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Quiros as a dark horse.
The 36-year-old Westwood three-putted the 72nd hole at the British Open last month to miss the playoff and finish third behind Tom Watson and champion Stewart Cink. Westwood, who also missed a playoff by a shot at the 2008 U.S. Open, seems to be closing in on a major.
"He's striking the ball as well as anyone at the moment," said Monty, who also revealed that he telephoned Westwood to commiserate after the British Open and to offer his advice on how to cope with near misses. Monty should now. He has been runner-up five times in majors.
It has been 39 years since Tony Jacklin, the last Englishman to win a major outside Augusta National, ran away with the 1970 U.S. Open, which was played, coincidentally, at Hazeltine. It could be a good omen for Westwood, who hasn't had too long to dwell on what might have been at Turnberry.
"It's helpful that these majors are only four weeks apart," Westwood said. "If I had had that third-place here and had eight months to think about it before the Masters, that would have been a bit trickier."
Despite failing to win since the British Masters two years ago, Westwood believes he is a better golfer than he was in 2000, when he won seven times and broke Monty's stranglehold on the European Tour's Order of Merit. He has remodeled his driving to make him one of the longest and straightest in the game, and he has worked hard on his short game, too, which was his weakness.
"Just missing out at Torrey Pines and Turnberry is not just a coincidence," Westwood said. "Results like that prove to me that I'm good enough to win a major. You only have to look at Padraig a few years ago. All he seemed to be doing was finishing second. Now he's the one winning most majors."
Harrington looked to mental coach Bob Rotella, but Westwood laughed at the suggestion that he might do the same. "I've always felt mentally quite stable," he said to much laughter in the press room. "Don't feel like I need it."