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Montgomerie bids to break US duck

When the subject of Colin Montgomerieís so-called lack of success in the United States was raised, he fought his corner: "Do you know Iíve played in 30 fewer US Tour events than Tom Watson did before he won his first tournament?

As he prepares to tee-up at Bay Hill in Orlando today, still in search of that elusive first American Tour win, the Scot could be forgiven for believing that the Fates have conspired against him over the past decade.

When he defeated Davis Love III in the 1998 final of the Andersen Consulting, and took home the first prize of $1million from the Grayhawk club in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Match Play was not an officially sanctioned event on the US Tour. Similarly, in 1997, when he claimed the individual prize at the World Cup held on Kiawah Island, the statisticians looked the other way, because the tournament was specially approved instead of holding official status.

Now both events are part of the World Championship series with the Match Play, in particular, established as a prestigious title.

Apart from Love, Monty also defeated Ernie Els, Jose Maria Olazabal, Sam Torrance and Costantino Rocca en route to success in the desert, so the victory hardly lacked credibility. A glance at his record of close shaves is also illuminating: his best finishes over the past nine years have been posted in Americaís leading tournaments, his history of achievement lying in the three US majors and the Players Championship.

It goes without saying that if he could perform consistently well in the elite events, the law of averages suggests that he might have romped home, if only he had spent long enough in the US to enter more run-of-the-mill tournaments. Indeed, after the Scot won the Skins Tournament (also unofficial) in California last year, Fred Couples pleaded with him to spend a couple of months in the US: the former Masters champion reckoned that if he put in quality time, he would win.

While the American media have ridiculed Monty for lack of success there, many golf insiders believe that he could have led the money-list in the 1990s if he had made his home in the US. And before he left for Florida, he left no room for doubt about his main priority as a golfer in 2001 - he is focused on winning in the US.

"Thatís why my schedule is a little different, and Iím playing a bit more in the States this year. Iím at Bay Hill before the Players, and then Iíll have a week in Florida with the family, and get ready for the Masters. Before the US Open, Iím going to play in the Fed-Ex St Jude Classic in Memphis. Even if that doesnít turn out to be a great week, it will give me a feel of whatís happening in the States - and a sense of belonging."

Apart from practical considerations of adjusting to the time difference and becoming acclimatised to heat and humidity, Monty hopes that more frequent appearances will win over the sceptics. His problems with rowdy American galleries have been well documented, and the problem was caused partly by a series of heroic performances for Europe in the Ryder Cup, which singled him out as public enemy No1.

Montgomerie bids once again to make a mark in the US. Allsport.

But itís also fair to say that his serious demeanour in major championships also earned him a reputation as a bit of a grump. He tried to counter that: for example, he gave an hour-long interview to the Golf Channel in America before the US PGA, which highlighted his sense of fun.

"As it turned out, the galleries in Louisville, and the following week at the NEC in Ohio, were wonderful. Thatís why, to be honest, I went back to take part in the Skins Game. It was really a PR exercise to show another side of me on the golf course. OK, I happened to win the thing, but that wasnít the point."

"We were miked up, and there was a bit of banter with the TV commentators. Iím actually all right at the side of things, but had never been in that situation over there before. When you go to play in a major, banter is not actually what youíre there for...sorry, but at majors youíve got to have your serious face on.

"Thatís why Iím hoping events like Bay Hill and the Fed-Ex will help me to feel more comfortable. Because, if youíre going to perform in any arena, youíve got to feel at ease."

Perhaps the Ryder Cup at Brookline marked a watershed in Montgomerieís uneasy relationship with the US. As he was subjected to foul-mouthed abuse - which drove his distraught father from the course - most fair-minded Americans were appalled.

At Bay Hill last year, Arnold Palmer was one of many who wanted to make amends, and asked to play with the Scot. This week, because he hasnít won in the US, the world No 7 is in lower-profile company, Joe Ozaki and Brandel Chamblee.

Although Thomas Bjorn and David Duval have pulled out, players of the calibre of defending champion Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els stand in the Scotís way at Bay Hill. If he is to fulfil the American dream, Monty must do it the hard way.

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