Rankings still rankle with great Scot

 

"Gee, I guess it's Murphy's Law," sighed the American monitor, from his Atlanta base, frustrated at the failure to get Colin Montgomerie on line. The irony wasn't lost. At a time when the main Tours are moving closer in harmony towards a semblance of a world tour, the big Scot - part of an international audio link-up to promote the finals of the Andersen Consulting World Championship in Arizona next month - was, for a time, incommunicado.

However, when Montgomerie's distinctive voice did eventually oscillate into the forum, at first apologising for the technical fault, it was his old, familiar shoot-from-the-lip self, the defender of European golf, where he has been king for five straight years, and unwilling to give second best to anyone.

His big gripe at the moment (and one shared by most European Tour players) is the anomaly in the world rankings, in favour of those on the US Tour. "The way things are going, only eight or nine Europeans will make the top 64 in 1999, when the new world championships start, and that is not enough," he insisted.

Montgomerie is the best example of the discrepancy. He topped the European order of merit for a record fifth time, and just missed out on the US Open title, yet dropped to sixth, from third, in the world rankings this year. "We're all dropping, myself, Bernhard Langer. Okay, Lee Westwood improved, but, considering the type of season he had, even that jump wasn't as much as it should have been," he said.

Earlier, Davis Love III, the USPGA champion, had cited the "absolute boom" in the US Tour, which will offer something like $150 million in prize-money with many tournaments breaking through the $3 1/2 million barrier. Is there a danger that the European Tour will be relegated into nothing more than a feeder tour for the States?

"Europe's doing okay," piped up Montgomerie. "We've three or four events with over £1 million in prize-money, and we're increasing all the time. We're making some waves ourselves."

"The European Tour has many advantages. The comradeship is excellent, we tend to spend more time together (than on the US Tour) and we're a lot closer. Possibly, it's because Heathrow Airport is a base for many of us, meeting up there on Tuesday mornings to commute to wherever the tournament is on and seeing each other there again on Sunday nights. It's a positive thing."

However, he harked back to the apparent irregularity in the world ranking system as "something that has to change" if Europe's players are to get a fair throw of the dice. "I know Ken Schofield is arguing strongly on our behalf and I compliment him on that," added Montgomerie.

Europe's number one, will play more frequently in the States next year, particularly in the run-up to a major, citing his US Open experience this year when he shot a 76 on the Friday "when the jet-lag hit me" and still only lost out by a stroke as "the one regret I have from the season" just ended. However, Montgomerie's schedule this side of the Atlantic will definitely include a defence of his Murphy's Irish Open crown at Druids Glen in July.

"I'll be playing the French, Irish, Loch Lomond and the Open, four good ones in a row," he confirmed. Other definites on his European schedule are the Dubai Classic, Qatar, and the Volvo PGA. Montgomerie's big goal for 1998, though, is to win that elusive major.

Love, who'd held the similar label of "best player never to have won a major," before his victory in the USPGA this year, said: "I believe all Colin has to do is relax and play his own game. I've spent a lot of time playing in the first round of the Masters with him and, I remember, in the first round of the US Open this year I don't think I've ever seen anyone play better golf. He's one of the best players in the world and, if he can relax and play his game, and put in four rounds in the one week, which is what I finally did, he'll get there."

The glitch in Montgomerie's telecommunications meant he didn't hear those words of encouragement, but the Scottish golfer's schedule will be primed towards emulating Love sometime, somewhere. "I'm going to give myself every possible chance to win a major," stated Montgomerie.

Love, who had interrupted a hunting trip with some friends to make his contribution to the link-up, faces Japan's Hajime Meshiai in one semi-final of next month's Andersen finals at Scottsdale, with Montgomerie renewing rivalry with a certain Ernie Els, his nemesis in US Open conflict. "I'm looking forward to it," added Montgomerie. "We don't play enough matchplay golf as professionals. It's not just you against the course, you have to play your opponent at the same time. Anyone who says you don't play the man is fibbing."