Wednesday 13 December 2017

Monty backs nervous Woods to rise above pantomime din

Oliver Brown

PITY the two poor souls who find themselves bracketed with 'T Woods' for the first two days of this year's Masters, fated to be cast as extras in their own film, spare parts at their own party.

Or not, if you are Colin Montgomerie, who has enough experience of the barbs from American golf galleries to make Woods' predicament look like a playground tiff -- and who feels he would make the perfect companion in the most-watched threeballs ever seen at Augusta National.

"I would volunteer," said Montgomerie yesterday, even though Europe's Ryder Cup captain has not qualified. "I think it would be very exciting."

Woods, who acknowledged in his first television interview last weekend that he was "nervous" about the Augusta reception, could hardly want for a playing partner better versed in how to survive the role of pantomime villain. When the Scot was in his '90s pomp, No 1 in Europe and second in the world only to Greg Norman, he endured the constant drip of poison in his ears.

The favoured holler of the redneck fan ("Yo' the man!") was once the right of Woods, but never reserved for Montgomerie. "I was the biggest threat," he said. "You play accordingly. You act accordingly. I sometimes got it wrong, but it did fire me up."

Montgomerie's past offers a salutary lesson for Woods. He assuredly did get it wrong, more than once, by allowing the sticks and stones to break his concentration. The nadir -- or zenith, depending on your point of view -- of his baiting in the US was reached when he became labelled on course as 'Mrs Doubtfire'. Rather than playing along with a self-mocking photoshoot in pearls, dress and powdered wig, he became consumed with the type of rage that stirred him to tear a strip off cameramen at a hundred paces.

But on his appearance yesterday at Bay Hill, ahead of this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, he appeared the image of calm. His game may not be of Masters calibre -- indeed, at 46, he has recently had remedial work in Houston with his old university coach -- but he could not have been more measured in his statements, or more generous in his backing of Woods to shut out the catcalls.

"I've heard when he said that he's nervous to come back, and that's the first time I've ever heard Tiger say those words," Montgomerie admitted. "It's shrewd what he has done to come back in the most controlled atmosphere possible.

"There are no cameras allowed within the ropes. You see nothing bar your opponent and caddie, and your own caddie."

Montgomerie knows about entering seething snakepits, but predicts Tiger's single-mindedness can silence any voices of dissent. "Tiger is different," Montgomerie adds. "I don't envisage problems. He's the most focused sportsman I've ever known." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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