ST ANDREWS (Scotland): Theres nothing like a good song to cheer you up when youre being trampled by Tiger Woods. They sang one to Colin Montgomerie on the 18th tee on Sunday, and it seemed to have the desired effect.
Oh, Monty, we love you, a group of men in the grandstands sang, doffing their hats to him.
Montgomerie may have been six shots down, but he smiled broadly. He smiled some more walking down the 18th fairway, and smiled a lot when he reached the 18th green.
He kept smiling when they gave him a silver platter for finishing second, and couldnt stop smiling when he met the press afterwards.
This guy could be the happiest runner-up ever.
In a country that prides itself on being the home of golf, its not always necessary to win to be a winner.
Theres no disgrace finishing second to the best player in the world, Montgomerie said.
No disgrace at all, if you count up all the times Montgomerie has flopped before in the one tournament he wants so desperately to win. This time Montgomerie was able to stumble to the finish mostly upright, and he seemed as giddy about it as the fans who waved Scottish flags and wore Monty wigs as they followed him around in the final round.
Its very positive, he said. Im taking lots of positives from this week.
Of course, positives tend to be good because they stop you from thinking about the negatives. And on a day when he wilted on the back nine after making a run on the front, there was enough of the latter to contemplate.
Hitting the wrong club when the wind shifted on the par-3 11th was one. Missing short putts on 11 and 13 were two more.
One shot out of the lead after driving the green and making a birdie on the ninth hole, Montgomerie ended up losing by five. In the record books, it will look like a rout. To Monty, its proof he can still play.
Its nice having a little bit of resurgence now after three years really in the wilderness, he said.
Montgomeries troubles, of course, are well known, at least in Britain, where hes great fodder for the tabloids. He has imploded in Opens, once shooting a 64 only to follow it with an 84, sparred with the press, and played the villains role in front of American fans.
At the US Open in Bethpage three years ago, his playing partners in a practice round wore Be Nice to Monty buttons to try and calm New York fans, who still delighted in calling him Mrs Doubtfire.
Add in a messy divorce last year, and allegations this year that he cheated in a tournament in Indonesia and theres enough newsprint material to strip the Sherwood Forest bare.
If anything, thats served only to boost his popularity in a country that expects its sports heroes to have flaws and loves nothing better than a loser who goes down valiantly.
Montgomerie did just that on Sunday, giving the massive crowd a thrill with three front nine birdies, the last one on a two-putt after driving the green at the ninth. The crowd roared with every move he made, while two men ran through the gallery holding large Scottish flags aloft and others wore curly wigs in his honour.
Even when they realised I wasnt going to win, they realised my job in hand was to try and finish second. And they helped me to that cause, Montgomerie said.
Second paid US$753,446, but even with a costly divorce, that wasnt the reason Montgomerie had his sights set just below Woods. A day earlier he had played with Woods and edged him by one shot, then proclaimed that it was one of the best days of his career.
It seemed almost pathetic that the winner of seven straight Orders of Merit on the European Tour and a playoff loser in both a US Open and US PGA championship in the mid-90s would call a good third round a career highlight. But it only shows what a tailspin the 42-year-olds game has been in.
He was once the No 2 player in the world, but hadnt really contended in the final round of a major since the 1997 US Open. Montgomerie, who lost his chance at that major when he missed a 5-footer on the 17th hole, cried afterward.
Its getting me down now, this major business, Montgomerie said then. The more Im in contention in these majors, there will be a little bit more pressure. But if I knock on the door enough, as I seem to be doing, especially in this tournament, the door will open one day.
Monty hasnt knocked since, and he must know the door is just about locked.
For one day, though, he was No 2 once again. It was good enough for his fans. And it was just fine with him. AP