The Shocking True Tabloid Tale of Colin Montgomerie!

"A storm's coming," says Colin Montgomerie, peering out over the Firth of Clyde toward the Isle of Arran.

Dressed in a baby-blue sweater and navy trousers that bunch up around his ample thighs, Montgomerie stands 4 under par, three strokes off the lead at the midway point of the 133rd British Open in Troon, Scotland, his boyhood home.

Before Saturday's third round he is flanked on the practice ground by coach Denis Pugh and caddie Andy Forsyth.

Montgomerie, who never strikes more than 25 balls before a competitive round (about two per club), hits a ball, chats with Pugh and Forsyth, hits another, and strikes up a conversation with England's Barry Lane, who's a stroke ahead of him going into third-round play.

Monty is in no hurry. Only here -- surrounded by his payroll and players he's known for years, cheered by his hometown fans even as he ignores their autograph requests -- is he safe from the battering he has endured for three long months.

Colin Montgomerie once blithely predicted that Brad Faxon would be off-form for the 1997 Ryder Cup because Faxon was in the middle of a divorce. Now, on the eve of the 35th Cup matches at Michigan's Oakland Hills Country Club, it's Monty whose marriage has been closed out, whipping up a British tabloid tornado like nothing since jilted coed Brenna Cepelak smashed Nick Faldo's Porsche with a 9-iron.

It was a summer of schadenfreude. Players and fans who had long been annoyed by high-and-mighty Monty relished the headlines: "Monty's Flighty Birdie" (London's Daily Mail), "Sad Monty" (Sunday Mirror), "Troubled Monty" (Daily Mail, Evening Standard), "Gloomy Monty" (Evening Standard), "Misty-Eyed Monty" (Daily Mail) and even "Brave Monty" (Daily Record).

No one plays the victim like Montgomerie. But he is also a survivor, all too familiar with toughing out a tempest, as he did at the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, going 3-1-1. His career Ryder Cup record is 16-7-5. That's better than Tiger, Phil or Freddie. It's better than any other active Ryder Cupper. With his wife of 14 years gone on the eve of a Ryder Cup defense in hostile territory, Montgomerie is troubled. Embattled. Bloodied, but unbowed. He is in his element.

{C} In his prime, when he won his "Magnificent Seven" Order of Merit crowns on the European Tour from 1993 to '99, there was no more finely calibrated golfer. A pure feel player with a languid, upright swing, Montgomerie prided himself on two things: hitting it straight and never having to practice hitting it straight.

"Have you seen him?" Steve Elkington asked Nick Price one day. "He's the only guy who could drive it up a gnat's ass every hole."

Montgomerie lived for such praise. His self-esteem came from his scorecard. "As players, you are ranked every day according to your score and that preys on your mind," he wrote in The Real Monty, his 2002 autobiography. He crowed that at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, "My first round was a 65 that Phil Mickelson described as 'the best Major round I've ever seen.' "

It's only a slight exaggeration to say, as one of his former caddies did at Troon, that Montgomerie would rather bogey the first 17 holes and birdie 18, in front of the most fans, than vice versa. Montgomerie's hypersensitive circuitry has hurt him in the distraction-heavy majors, with their bloated press corps and big, often boisterous crowds. He saw everything and heard more, and became a fan target for barking back at hecklers and accidental noisemakers, starting a crackling two-way dialogue that was as good as career suicide.

"Cut that out!" he snapped at a Mickelson fan who shouted, "You da man!" after a Mickelson drive at the '97 U.S. Open.

"Sorry about that," the fan said.

"No, you're not," Montgomerie shot back.

"Yes, I am," the guy insisted.

"No, you're not. You're not sorry at all," Montgomerie said.

"You're right," said the fan, realizing the flustered Scotsman wouldn't take yes for an answer. "I'm not!"

Montgomerie went on to finish runner-up to Ernie Els, done in by a second-round 76 in which he called one fan a "pillock" (slang for penis) and yelled, "Why don't you save that for the Ryder Cup!" He had already lost the '94 Open to Els in a playoff that included Loren Roberts, and the '95 PGA.Championship to Elkington when the latter rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole.

"Two playoffs, that's very close," says Ryder Cup teammate Padraig Harrington. "That's a roll of a ball. People have played worse and won. But he should have got into contention more during those seven [Order of Merit] years. Eventually someone would have given him one."

{C} The fans at Troon would give him one if they could. They love him despite his faults, calling the lumbering 41-year-old "Monty," "Collie" or "the Big 'Un" instead of "Mrs. Doubtfire" or "Scotland Lard," the taunts he hears elsewhere.

He used to say his best hometown performance was marrying Troon beauty Eimear Wilson at Troon Old Parish Church, a mile from Royal Troon's first tee. After a separation in 2000 that left Monty sobbing in his hotel room and wandering the dark streets of London, the jet-set couple called it quits this spring. Their last fight, "A Blazing Row" (The Sun) after Monty's second-round 80 to miss the cut at The Masters, began with him storming off the grounds, stranding Eimear, and ended with a shouting match that kept at least one neighbor up all night.

Montgomerie turned to Price, one of his favorite practice-round partners, for advice.

"Do your best to keep things together," Price said, "and if it doesn't work out, don't blame yourself."

One tabloid reported that Monty watched The Masters on TV over the weekend and was crushed to see Phil Mickelson win -- to see his successor as Best Player Never To Have Won a Major shed that horrible label. The following weekend, Colin and Eimear went through with a holiday to Barbados. It was perhaps their last chance to rekindle their ardor.

His marriage in tatters, Monty moved into their flat in London and learned how to use a dishwasher; Eimear and their three children, ages 11, 8 and 6, remained in the $4 million Oxshott mansion the couple called "Nairn" after the town where Colin met Eimear in 1987.

Montgomerie played on but seemed on the verge of falling apart between the ropes. In late April, the Sunday Mirror reported on the cozy relationship between Eimear and actor Hugh Grant, whom Colin had befriended at a pro-am. Montgomerie pulled out of the VW Masters in Hong Kong to fly back to Oxshott.

It was to be "Monty's Divorce Summit" (The Sun) and sure enough the action picked up speed. Colin and Eimear, 35, issued a statement that read, in part, "We have sadly decided to separate, with a view to divorce." Days later, Eimear, who had been romantically linked to soccer star turned TV commentator Gary Lineker, was photographed canoodling with Marc Rowlands, 36, an Oxford-educated barrister.

"We're just friends," she told the Daily Mail even as the Sunday Mirror trumpeted, "Eimear's Fore-play Exclusive -- Kisses & cuddles with lawyer love; They date as Monty tries to save marriage."

Eimear and Rowlands had been spotted hugging on the street and dining "at London's chic Oxo Tower restaurant." According to "a friend of the couple," she had been seeing Rowlands for four months and was "besotted" with him.

Misty-eyed Monty was "devastated... over wife's secret affair" (Mirror). With one eye on his disintegrating marriage and one on his game, he fell out of the top 50 in the World Ranking and for the first time in 12 years missed the U.S. Open.

He wasn't even exempt at Troon, but survived a 12-man playoff in an Open qualifier at Sunningdale to earn his way in. It was "the first decent thing that's happened to me on the course in a long time," he said. But even that escape was melodramatic. He had been cruising toward a qualifying spot only to lose his cool when he spotted a certain spectator near the ninth tee during his second round.

"I can't believe he's here watching!" Montgomerie huffed, according to the Sunday Mail. "That's unbelievable!" He hooked his drive into the heather, slammed his driver into his bag so hard fans thought he'd broken it, and bogeyed the hole. He seemed to be weeping. Soon The Express and others were investigating "The Riddle of Monty's Stalker." Was it Hugh Grant? Marc Rowlands? It turned out to be Sunningdale member and wealthy hotelier Alasdair Hadden-Paton, a friend of Eimear's.

As news of the Montgomeries' split crossed the Atlantic, pro golfers lined up behind Monty.

"From what I heard, she hasn't been a very nice person," Tom Lehman said. "I wouldn't wish that on anybody. You can play bad, but going home to the wife and kids puts things in perspective. And when that goes south, it's like shaking a tree at the roots."

But perspective was never Montgomerie's strong suit, wife and kids or not. Eimear "understood that there were times when it would be madness to interrupt the momentum of a good golfing streak," he wrote in The Real Monty, explaining his absences from family events including his kids' birthdays.

Longtime Monty-watchers had another reason to anticipate his divorce. Troon's worst-kept secret was that the Montgomeries and Wilsons didn't get along.

"Never lose that lovely girl," the late Betty Montgomerie told her youngest son, according to The Real Monty, but Troon townies doubt it's true. Colin's father, James, Troon's taciturn former club secretary, attended The Masters every year -- until, locals say, he and Eimear came to loathe each other's company so much that he wouldn't go to any tournament where he might see her. A source close to Montgomerie denied knowledge of that rift; in any case, it hardly matters anymore.

Monty seemed almost sunny in mid-July, when he spoke at the European Golf Writers dinner two days before the British Open.

He joked that he would be a good captain's pick for Bernhard Langer's Ryder Cup team because he'd need "only one seat" on the plane -- a reference to his newly single status. He turned to his friend Prince Andrew, captain of the R&A and himself a divorcE, and crowed over his own No. 23 ranking on a recent most-eligible-bachelors list. "And what are you again?" Montgomerie teased His Royal Highness.

{C} The storm on Saturday .is as terrible as it is brief, rain blowing sideways off the Firth of Clyde. Montgomerie weathers it, making birdie on the par-5 fourth hole in the worst of it en route to a 1-over-par 72.

And so Brave Monty starts the final round of the British Open only five strokes off the lead. Could this be the day he sheds his wilts-in-the-majors reputation, right here in his hometown? That rep has followed him around the world's greatest courses for more than a decade. It offends him. And yet here he goes again, stumbling to a Sunday 76 and finishing 25th. He will blame the golf gods for several putts that won't fall on the front side. Bad shots are rarely his fault -- better to blame fate, a photographer, a hiccuping fan.

He still can't see past his own shadow. Long after falling out of contention on Sunday, Montgomerie misses the green on the par-3 17th hole. His ball lands near a tangle of TV cables amid the spectators -- his "Tartan Army," in tabloid talk. They have been cheering his every move all week. Now the fans hoist the cables away from his ball, clearing space for their man to take his stance. The scene recalls Tiger Woods fans' rolling a boulder out of Woods's way at the 1999 Phoenix Open, and begs for a quip or quick laugh from Monty.

He does neither: His look says that he would expect nothing less from the crowd.

"You could say that I have a face full of expression," Montgomerie once noted, but on-course it's often a horribly wronged expression. Today at 17 he hits a wedge over the green, chips back and two-putts for a double-bogey.

"Dream Turns to Nightmare with Monty's Dying Circus," the Daily Record laments the next day.

Montgomerie says he appreciates his newfound support but receives it by walking head-down past kids' arms sticking through the fence at Troon. He says all the right things about his split ("Monty Admits Quest for Glory Ruined Him" -- The Express) but then he had done the same after his 2000 separation. For all his supposed contrition and humility, he's the Same Monty.

{C} He'll never win a major. So how will Colin Montgomerie be remembered?

Was he Europe's greatest Ryder Cup player? With 181Ú2 points won he won't catch Faldo (25) or Langer (24) and probably not Seve Ballesteros (221Ú2). Winning seven straight European Tour money titles remains a singular accomplishment, though you could argue that it makes him the golf equivalent of a minor-league slugger or B-movie star. (In fact the theater is calling: A comic named Doniert Macfarlane performed his one-man show called "Colin Montgomerie Stole My Life" at this summer's Edinburgh Festival.) No one ever cared about that in the States, where he was heckled mercilessly and never won anything but Ryder Cups. He always sought approval through his golf, but there was never enough approval for Colin Montgomerie.

At Houston Baptist University, where he drove a beat-up Mazda GLC with "monty" on the license plates, Montgomerie got to know University of Texas golfer Brandel Chamblee. Years later they were playing a practice round together at the Honda Classic when Steve Stricker walked by on an adjoining fairway.

"You know," Chamblee said of Stricker. "That's the most impressive player I've played with in a long time."

Montgomerie looked up. "Do you mean," he said, "that I'm not the most impressive player you've played with in a long time?"

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