Rejuvenated Monty Ready for AmEx

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Colin Montgomerie would have preferred to take a week off and celebrate a European tour victory he calls the most important of his career.
 
But there's no time to stop now.
 
The American Express Championship starts Thursday, a $7.5 million tournament that Montgomerie didn't count on playing when his year began. It's a huge opportunity for him to make up ground on U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell on the European tour money list, another situation the Scot could not have fathomed.
 
And it's another chance to end his dubious record of never winning an official event in America.
 
``Never look back, always look forward and just got to keep going,'' Montgomerie said Wednesday. ``I look forward to competing here and trying to do well through the end of the year. I have just got to keep going.''
 
Suddenly, Montgomerie likes his chances against the best players assembled at this World Golf Championship, especially since renovated Harding Park -- a municipal gem on the western fringe of San Francisco -- is not overly long at 7,060 yards (par 70) and requires accuracy and position along the tree-lined fairways.
 
Confidence helps, too, and Monty's has rarely been this high.
 
He's coming off a dramatic victory last week in the Dunhill Links Championship, the European tour's version of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in that it is played over three links courses, with everyone playing St. Andrews twice. It was on the Old Course that Montgomerie made up a five-shot deficit, birdied the last hole and won by a stroke.
 
And it was his first victory in Europe in 19 months, which adds to the significance.
 
``I said the next win would be the most important of my career, and it is,'' Monty said after he won at St. Andrews.
 
He used to win with such regularity and he compiled a record seven straight Order of Merits. Then he stopped, and the downward spiral was unstoppable. In the midst of his woes on the golf course, Montgomerie went through a very public divorce that made his life miserable.
 
But in a year that was turned upside-down, he landed on his feet.
 
Montgomerie fell as low as No. 83 in the world ranking. His victory last week pushed him up to No. 16, with an opportunity to soar back into the top 10.
 
That allowed him to get into the American Express Championship, and he's now assured of playing in all the WGC events, The Players Championship and all four majors, where world ranking points are the highest.
 
The biggest surprise of all? He just might capture another Order of Merit.
 
Thanks primarily to two great performances at St. Andrews -- runner-up to Tiger Woods at the British Open and his victory last week -- Montgomerie trails Campbell by $140,325 on the money list with four tournaments left. Monty needs to finish at least seventh at Harding Park to surpass him, but all he wants is to be in range of the Kiwi when the season-ending Volvo Masters rolls around.
 
Of course, Campbell will have a say in that.
 
``It makes it very interesting for the next couple of weeks coming up, with this week and the Volvo Masters,'' Campbell said. ``There's three or four guys in the running.''
 
Along with holding off Woods to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, he captured the World Match Play Championship in England last month to win $1.8 million, the richest prize in golf among official tournaments.
 
Next on his agenda is a World Golf Championship, which usually are played in America and have been dominated by American tour players -- particularly those named Woods.
 
``I've won a major. I want to win more majors, and also I want to win a world event, which I haven't done yet,'' Campbell said. ``So that's my goal. To achieve that, I need to play to a very high standard, and all the past champions as you see in the records ... they've all been great champions. So, it would be nice to be a part of history.''
 
That history starts with Woods, who has won nine of the 18 WGC events he has played that count toward official money, including the NEC Invitational last month at Firestone. He already has won the American Express three times in three countries -- Spain, Ireland and the United States (north of Atlanta).
 
Whether he's a factor at Harding Park might depend on how sharp he is, especially off the tee. Woods believe this golf course is all about position, allowing him and other players to attack flags from the right angles.
 
Campbell doesn't view it as all that dire.
 
``He can play on a telephone book and still be good,'' he said of Woods. ``He can adjust his game to any golf course we play, whether it's long, short, straight or bent or whatever. He can do anything with a golf ball, so he's always favored coming into a golf tournament.''
 
Campbell and Montgomerie have their work cut out for them. Only two European tour members have won WGC events -- Darren Clarke at the '00 Match Play Championship and '03 NEC Invitational, and Ernie Els last year at the American Express Championship in Ireland.
 
Els is unable to defend his title while recovering from knee surgery, one less player for Campbell and Monty to worry about.
 
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