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Ryder Cup concerns over Montgomerie

Colin Montgomerie, by withdrawing from the BMW International in Munich this week, has placed a large question mark against his participation in the Ryder Cup at the Belfry in four weeks.

The Scot, who has chosen to rest an ailing back, performed magnificently for Europe in the last six matches and, if the side were being selected, he would ordinarily be the first name on the team sheet.

But, when he walked off in mid-round in the NEC Invitational in Seattle last week, it was the second time in eight months that he had done so, each time claiming that back pain made it impossible to continue. In January he departed the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth, Australia, and said at the time he was suffering from "a career- threatening injury".

In fact, four weeks and 18,000 air miles later Montgomerie was back playing in the Accenture Match Play Championship in California.

His latest departure will greatly concern Sam Torrance, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, who, despite saying that he would not necessarily push his main man to play in all five series of matches, will be worried that Montgomerie might not be able to complete a match.

In that case it would mean forfeiting a point and in four of the last five Ryder Cups the winning margin has been a single point. Whether Torrance feels he can take that risk, or whether he considers half a Monty would be better than none, only he knows, and he is not saying.

If Montgomerie drops out it would seriously weaken a side already afflicted by loss of form. Neither Lee Westwoodnor Darren Clarke has imposed himself as they have in previous seasons, while Pierre Fulke and Phillip Price have played shabbily for most of the year.

Montgomerie's replacement would be Ian Poulter, the next automatic qualifier at the time the team was announced last year. Poulter was 11th in the Volvo Order of Merit then; now he is 35th and, though promising, he is not in the same class as a man who has won the Order seven successive times.

Europe must hope, then, that whatever it is that ails Montgomerie goes away for the weekend of September 27-29. The Scot underwent a MRI scan in May this year. The cause of his discomfort was located but it was not thought to be overwhelming.

Clive Lathey, his osteopath, said then that Montgomerie's back was "in pretty good shape for a 38-year-old. That in itself is remarkable for a 38-year-old professional golfer, given his sport. He does have some mild wear and tear which is not serious but will, when aggravated, cause occasional pain.

"The prognosis is good and I believe there will be absolutely no need for surgery during his professional career."

It may be that Montgomerie, now 39, will just have to close his eyes, grit his teeth and think of Europe.

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