'He's lost a lot of weight,' a woman said, a tinge of admiration in her voice. 'He used to be a pretty big guy.'
Not anymore. Once known derisively as 'Mrs. Doubtfire,' Montgomerie has slimmed down dramatically in the last two months, arriving for the Ryder Cup with 36 fewer pounds on his once-chubby frame.
Call him Monty Lite.
That's not the only change, either. Montgomerie went through a very public divorce from his wife of 14 years, Eimear, their split becoming final just last Friday.
He'll talk about his weight loss.
Don't bring up the other matter.
'Excuse me here for one second,' Montgomerie said Wednesday, responding tersely when someone asked what sort of emotional baggage he might be carrying into the America vs. Europe showdown.
'No personal questions will be answered here. I don't mean to be rude in any way. I'm just here for a team event, and if you keep your questions to a team format, that would be great. Thank you.'
OK, let's turn the subject to team golf. When it comes to the Ryder Cup, no one does it better than Montgomerie. Something about the format brings out the best in him, stoking his competitive fires like no other event.
Go ahead and heckle him, as the American fans did mercilessly at the 1999 Ryder Cup. The whole presentation made him an easy target -- the bulky shirt fighting a losing battle to conceal the girth underneath. The Europeans lost, but it wasn't Monty's fault. He was the best player on the course.
Now, they can't make fun of his physique, either. Maybe, in some subtle way, the memories of Brookline spurred him to knock off more than a few pounds.
'I just feel a little bit better about myself,' Montgomerie said, 'and self-esteem is huge in this game, especially when you're out in public an awful lot.'
With his personal life in turmoil -- he separated from his ex-spouse in April -- Montgomerie's game has suffered. He's plummeted to 62nd in the world rankings. He didn't qualify for one of the automatic spots on the European team, getting in with a captain's pick.
Actually, though, it was no-brainer to go with Monty, the state of his game notwithstanding. His record in six previous Ryder Cups is impeccable: 16-7-5, with not one of those defeats coming in singles.
'I think Montgomerie will rise to the occasion,' European captain Bernhard Langer said. 'We have players who will crumble, but he will pull it out. He's my No. 1.'
For some reason, Montgomerie always seems to wilt in the majors, the only tournaments where the pressure is comparable to a Ryder Cup. His record of despair is well documented: a playoff loss at the 1994 U.S. Open, a similar fate at the '95 PGA championship, another runner-up finish at the '97 U.S. Open.
At age 41, he's running out of chances to win his first major.
The Ryder Cup is another story. When Monty puts on one of those European shirts -- even a smaller size, thank you -- his entire mind-set seems to change.
He's the go-to guy for an entire continent. If the Ryder Cup is to be his legacy, he'll gladly take it.
'I think my character and my personality comes out in this event,' Montgomerie said. 'I really do enjoy it. When you enjoy something, you're usually quite good at it.'
While the crowds at Oakland Hills will undoubtedly be pro-American, Monty doesn't expect to face the sort of nationalistic vitriol that came his way five years ago.
'I don't think that Brookline will appear again,' he said. 'The world is a different place, a better place. I don't think we'll have that situation at all.'
Not that it seems to rattle Monty. As Phil Mickelson pointed out, any overzealous U.S. fan who might be tempted to heckle the persnickety Brit should consider the ramifications.
'Nobody was more impressed than I was in '99 when he took a lot of ribbing and was able to perform at the highest level of anybody there,' Mickelson said. 'So maybe that's kind of a word to the wise than we shouldn't (tick) him off. Maybe we should just downplay it a little bit and not agitate him so much.'
If Wednesday's practice round was any indication, Monty will be treated with a delicate touch at this Ryder Cup.
There were no boos, no snide remarks. He even spotted a group of fans wearing Union Jack-themed shirts and hats, motioning them under the rope to pose for an impromptu picture in the middle of the 17th fairway.
'Keep smiling, Monty!' someone yelled.
He looked back, acknowledging the support with a big grin.
Clearly, he was right where he wanted to be.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.