The more human story in California this week was the one that dealt with the trials and tribulations of Colin Montgomerie, a target of a different kind.
Montgomerie has always been a lightning rod for the notion in golf that the world's best players must separate their outside lives and emotions from the stony concentration demanded by the inside pressures and difficulties demanded by the game at its highest level.
He won seven straight Order of Merit titles in Europe but never captured an official event on the U.S. Tour. Nor did he ever win a major. He developed a reputation, much of it earned, for being delightfully articulate when he played well and maddeningly boorish when he didn't.
Somehow, someway a certain element of American spectators picked up on the fact that Montgomerie didn't know how to deflect hecklers. And he became a marked man. More recently the jackals picked up the scent again as Montgomerie suffered through a nasty and public divorce.
By the time Montgomerie arrived at Woods' tournament, his world ranking had plunged to No. 79. 'Yes,' he said. 'I believe I'm the world's worst-ranked player here.'
Only a special invitation from Woods enabled Montgomerie to join the elite 16-player field. Montgomerie arrived in a mild state of late-season disarray, having crossed the International Dateline three times in the last month as he chased late season purses to the four corners of the globe.
'I play better when I'm half asleep and I am now,' Montgomerie said after an opening 67 left him in a three-way tie for the first round lead with Woods and Jim Furyk.
Nobody paid much heed. Most figured the jet lag would catch up and Montgomerie would gradually slide down the starry leaderboard. Montgomerie suggested otherwise. 'It's been a crap year,' he said. But, he added, 'I'm getting my game back again to a certain degree.'
By Saturday night he had convinced just about everybody. He had played the par-5 16th in 5-under through 54 holes and managed to carve out a two-shot lead over Furyk, Woods and the redoubtable, 51-year-old Jay Haas.
In the end, Montgomerie would shoot an even par 71 Sunday and wind up tied for third with Haas. Still, it was a statement that Montgomerie may, indeed, be ignored at the ignorer's peril in 2005. He has lost weight. He is quietly campaigning for the European Ryder Cup captaincy for 2006 (expect a captain announcement soon) and he appears to have gotten his life back on the tracks.
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