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GOLF: THREE MAJORS IN A ROW ... THAT'S JUST A START FOR TIGER; RECORD CHASER: WOODS' GRIP ON GOLF SET TO CONTINUE INTO 2001 AS HE BIDS TO BECOME THE FIRST MAN TO HOLD ALL FOUR MAJORS AT ONCE.

Byline: Neil McLeman

Neil McLeman takes a look back at 2000 and previews the golfing year ahead.

EVEN after winning three majors in a row, last year may just have been the beginning for Tiger Woods.

A question much closer to home, however, is whether it was also the beginning of the end for Colin Montgomerie.

The newly slimline Scot lost 37 pounds on a radical diet - but his seven-year reign as European No.1 was ended by a man 10 years his junior.

Displaying a Samson-like loss of strength, it was the first time Monty had moved down the Order of Merit since finishing 164th back in 1987.

Yet this slip in standards in his traditional stronghold - he only won the Volvo PGA and the French Open compared with six titles in 1999 - was not balanced by successes in pastures new as his record in the majors continued to disappointment.

Only three years ago he finished second in the US Open to Ernie Els while in 1995 he lost a play-off for the USPGA with Steve Elkington. He was also third at the US Open in 1992, yet this season he failed to come close to those heights.

At the US Masters he finished joint-19th, joint-46th at the US Open, joint-26th in the Open at St Andrews and again failed to contend at Valhalla in the USPGA where he was joint-39th in his 38th major.

It was between his July appointment on the Fife coast and the August heat of Kentucky that Montgomerie embarked on his weight-loss programme.

Before the 82nd USPGA, where he enjoyed an improved relationship with the American galleries, he explained he was not eating after 7pm and had employed a personal trainer.

He said: "I just woke up one morning after the Open and thought, 'Well, if you don't have to be something in life, don't be it'. And I was overweight. I didn't want to be overweight anymore and I decided to go on a very strict diet and a fitness regime. I didn't do it just for this week.

"What happens when I lose weight is my self-esteem rises and there's no point in doing one's job in public if you don't have good self-esteem.

"I hadn't had that for a couple of years and I wanted it. That is what I have done and the crowd notices it. That is giving me more confidence.

"You tend to walk a little bit taller and it might save me a shot towards the end of the week."

It didn't, as Monty experienced sickness after arriving only 36 hours before the event started.

During the Dunhill Cup in October he announced a change to that strategy and a reduced schedule for 2001, while insisting his golfing appetite remained as strong as ever.

He said: "I have to concentrate on the majors now - I think I'll play at least one event if not two in America before the majors.

"I've got three in the States over there so you'll probably find me playing more over there next year. I'll be trying to win a major - I know I've got the talent and the ability."

In November, Monty needed to win the American Express World Championship at Valderrama in November but could not stop Lee Westwood taking his European crown.

Although Monty is highly respected in the European game, the change at the top was seen as good for the game.

Chubby Chandler, the manager of Westwood and Darren Clarke, said: "It is good for golf because we've had Montgomerie at the top for seven years with Darren and Lee right behind him for the last few seasons.

"Montgomerie's been great for European golf but it's good there are younger players coming through to give him a serious challenge.

"He'll want to win it back next year but he knows he will have a hell of a fight on his hands."

Paradoxically, the loss of his pre-eminence on the European Tour will now increase the pressure on Monty in the majors at a time when his business interests, determination to promote Scotland as a golfing destination and family life could prove an increasing distraction. And that is without taking into account the increasing standard of play on the course. He said: "The competition is fierce, so the pressure builds. When I get to the Masters in April, people will start asking 'Is this Monty's year'?

"I'm trying to alleviate the stress by saying if it happens, it happens. It's easier said than done."

A massive reason for that is Woods, whose current dominance of the game arguably cuts in half the opportunities for mere mortals to claim a major title in a game increasingly dominated by 20-somethings.

The American will also be striving to make more history this year after the achievements of the past 12 months. Woods won the US Open by 15 shots, the Open by eight in July and, even though he was struggling with his swing, he took the USPGA title after winning a play-off with Bob May.

Woods became the first man since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three majors in a year and the first player since Denny Shute in 1937 to retain the USPGA title. It was his fifth major title.

Woods also became the fifth and youngest member of a select band of players who have completed golf's Grand Slam of majors, along with Gene Sarazen, Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.

And when the US Masters tees off amid the azaleas and magnolias of the Augusta National Club in Georgia, Woods will have the opportunity to establish more records since no man has ever been in possession of all four majors at one time.

Hogan might have done it 47 years ago but that season the USPGA in Michigan was scheduled to finish the day before the Open at Carnoustie began and he could not play both.

He played and won in Scotland to add that title to the Masters and US Open crowns but then finished second in the 1954 Masters.

Jack Nicklaus won the USPGA in 1971 and then the Masters and US Open the following year and so needed to clinch the Open at Muirfield to complete the quartet. But his last-round 66 was not enough as Lee Trevino chipped in at the 17th to win by one.

Augusta was where Woods shot to international fame in 1997. After making the turn in the first round in 40, he careered through the field to finish 12 shots clear on 18 under par. He will attempt a repeat in April.

How close Montgomerie comes to stopping him will indicate whether the Scot's changed priorities have taken him closer to that first major - or further from the summit of world golf.

DATES FOR YOUR DIARY

JAN 3-7 WGC: Andersen Consulting Match Play, Melbourne, Australia.

APRIL 5-8: Masters, Augusta, Georgia.

MAY 25-28: Volva PGA Championship, Wentworth.

JUNE 14-17: US Open, Southern Hills, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

JULY 12-15: Loch Lomond World Invitational.

JULY 19-22: 130th Open Championship, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Lancs.

AUGUST 16-19: USPGA Championship, Atlanta Athletic Club, Georgia.

AUGUST 23-26 WGC: NEC Invitational, Firestone CC, Akron, Ohio; Scottish PGA Championship, Gleneagles.

SEPT 2: Ryder Cup team announcement after BMW International Open in Munich.

SEPT 13-16 WGC: American Express Championship, St Louis, USA.

SEPT 28-30: 34th Ryder Cup, The Belfry.

OCT 18-21: Alfred Dunhill Links Championships, St Andrews, Carnoustie, Kingsbarns.

NOV 15-18 WGC: EMC World Cup, Gotemba, Japan.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 3, 2001
Words:1250
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