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Golf: Ryder Cup 2004: Redemption of Monty warms Langer most; Heart and soul of Europe challenge proved the captain was right, says Frank Malley.

Byline: Frank Malley

A s they say in all those Wild West films the best way to win the battle is to shoot down the chiefs first.

That's exactly what Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington did when they humbled Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in a Ryder Cup opening fourball of ruthless shot-making.

On the chilliest of mornings on which American captain Hal Sutton got in the mood by wearing a black cowboy Stetson, Montgomerie and Harrington put the warmest of glows into the heart of Europe's challenge.

On the way, Monty surely found golfing redemption.

There were those who questioned captain Bernhard Langer's decision to select a man who languishes at No 62 in the world, whose private life has been splashed over the front pages for the past six months, whose divorce from wife Eimear came through only last week and whose golf game appeared to be peppered with poisoned arrows.

But Monty has been the heart and soul of Europe's Ryder Cup challenge this past decade, his 18 1 /2 points before yesterday making him fourth in the alltime list behind Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Langer.

The one gleaned with a 2&1 victory at the 17th hole yesterday, however, was perhaps the sweetest notch of all on Monty's holster.

Undoubtedly, Harrington was the perfect partner, dovetailing beautifully with the Scot as they launched a fearsome eightbirdie assault on the Oakland Hills course, which included four in the first four holes.

On the way, Montgomerie also rammed a few home truths down the throats of any home fans who might have been tempted to resurrect the vile taunts which so marred Brookline five years ago.

Yesterday, there was only one malevolent shriek at the seventh hole from an American fan as Montgomerie arrived to mark his ball.

'You ain't won a major yet and you ain't gonna win yesterday,' bawled the mistaken lout who was swiftly silenced by ashamed peers around him.

The new slimline, focused Montgomerie clearly heard the jibe but was far too busy to indulge in any concentrationbusting by-play.

Instead, he busied himself burying a psychological dagger deep into the heart of the American team. And if, tomorrow evening, Europe walk away with the Ryder Cup still in their possession then, make no mistake, it will have been fashioned on this first extraordinary morning. Montgomerie accepted as much.

'To birdie the first was a fantastic start,' he said. 'For the six other guys behind to see that their top two were losing was a great boost. We always thought it was worth more than a point to beat Phil and Tiger.

'I was happy Padraig wanted to play with me, because I wanted to play with him. We dovetailed very well.'

Harrington was swift to return the compliment.

'Colin showed his class and he is an unbelievable partner. We knew it was up to us and we are very satisfied,' he said.

To say Montgomerie got off to a good start is a bit like saying triple tennis grand slam winner Roger Federer has had an OK year.

He was quite brilliant. From the moment he shared a joke with a spectator on the first tee wrapped in an Irish flag, Montgomerie exuded panache and experience.

Not that there weren't nerves out there. The Ryder Cup generates more tension than perhaps any other event in sport, a fact confirmed by the manner in which Montgomerie's first tee shot found the right-hand bunker, Harrington and Woods finding similar spots.

It was Montgomerie, however, whose approach sent the first European cheers rippling around the course with the 'Monster' sobriquet, a towering iron landing ten feet from the flag. He stalked the putt in trademark fashion before caressing it quite beautifully into the hole. The smile was as much of relief as satisfaction.

In that moment, Montgomerie announced his return to the stage which brings out the most inspiring aspects of his complex nature.

By contrast, the Americans looked tentative, uncomfortable perhaps in each other's company. Woods, world No 2, and Mickelson, ranked fourth, are not the best of friends, however much Sutton has stressed this week that their relationship is 'cordial'.

When Harrington weighed in with another birdie at the second to put Europe two up, the American top two were looking anything but a 'dream team.' True, Woods managed a birdie to reduce the deficit on the 455-yard par-four fifth but back came Montgomerie on the next hole with an 18-foot downhill putt for birdie, after which he blew out his cheeks, raised his eyebrows to partner Harrington and then joined in what appeared a fit of giggles.

No wonder. He later revealed Mickelson at that point had jokingly offered to snap his putting blade, which he refers to as 'Excalibur', Montgomerie admitting it was the 'craziest' of putts.

'Monty's on fire,' an American fan whispered to his friend. Yes, the Europeans were enjoying their morning's work.

Mickelson finally troubled the scoreboard on the seventh with a birdie to reduce the arrears. Europe responded, Harrington holing a 20-footer up the hill for another birdie.

The Europeans were gelling superbly as a team and while Woods again got one back at the ninth, the Americans never appeared to be more than clinging to their shirttails.

The Europeans squandered good chances at the tenth and 11th before a Harrington birdie at the par-five 12th, which should have been down the alley of the big-hitting Americans, took Europe two clear.

That advantage became three at the 14th with another fourfoot birdie putt from the Irishman and while a superb Mickelson 15-footer delayed the finish, it only prolonged the American agony.

Montgomerie stroked home the two-footer for a half on the 17th to clinch the win which struck such a psychological chord.

If the scoreline, in a city which spawned the cream of Motown, was music to European ears, for Montgomerie it lifted the very soul.

CAPTION(S):

Waiting game: Darren Clarke (left) and Miguel Angel Jimenez wait to putt on the seventh green on their way to beating David Love III and Chad Campbell; The writing's on the wall (clockwise from above): The; scoreboard at Oakland Hills tells a happy story for Europe after Bernhard Langer's men ended the morning's play 3 1 /21 /2 up on the Americans; Jim Furyk chips on to the 12th green before he and David Toms lost 5&3 to Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia; and, Luke Donald, who earned half a point with Paul McGinley against Chris Riley and Stewart Cink; Pictures/ GETTY IMAGES; Teamwork: Colin Montgomerie receives some advice over his putt from Padraig Harrington
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 18, 2004
Words:1106
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