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Montgomerie finds end of season form

Less than two months ago Colin Montgomerie's season looked in serious jeopardy, a heart scare and long-term back injury adding to a dip in form that had culminated in a disappointing British Open.

Many were starting to question whether the Scot would be fit to play in the Ryder Cup and if so, how much of a contribution he would be able to make to the European cause.

Others asked whether this season signalled just the first in a downward spiral for a player who had dominated European golf for an unprecedented seven years.

But fast forward two months and there is little doubt the Scot has answered his critics in emphatic fashion.

First he provided a majestic performance in Europe's thrilling Ryder Cup victory over the United States at The Belfry.

The 38-year-old not only reaffirmed his reputation as one of the sweetest ball strikers in world golf, he also carried himself with a graceful air that has sometimes been missing from his game.

It was a different Montgomerie to the one caught in the worst of the atrocious weather during the third round of the British Open at Muirfield.

On that occasion, the Scot appeared to throw in the towel. He returned an 84 on his way to 82nd place and won few admirers for his demeanour throughout the week.

But if there is one thing that inspires Montgomerie it is team matchplay.

His 4-1/2 points out of a possible five at The Belfry equalled the record for the most won by a European player in a single Ryder Cup -- a contribution put into perspective by Tiger Woods's tally of six points from three Ryder Cups.

Montgomerie also provided the rallying point for Europe on the final day, his 5 & 4 singles demolition of Scot Hoch justifying European captain Sam Torrance's decision to put his strongest players out first.

Many players might have sat back and revelled in such an outstanding performance, but Montgomerie was determined to continue his Belfry form and see out his season in style.

A record-equalling 63 in the final round of the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrew's the following week offered further proof he was back to his best and helped him to a share of third place.

Had it not been for a "seeded divot" that resulted in a bogey at the last the Scot would have posted a 62 for the outright record.

A month later he was back in the winner's enclosure, albeit alongside Bernhard Langer after having agreed to share the Volvo Masters title during a playoff with the German in fading light at Valderrama, Spain.

It was Montgomerie's first victory of 2002 and continued a record that has seen him win at least once every season for the past 10 years.

The Scot then made it back-to-back wins for only the second time in his career when he captured the TLC Open in Guanggdon, China by two shots from Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee on Sunday.

While the Asian PGA Tour event may not have provided the stiffest test of Montgomerie's career, he still had to overcome the challenge of Asia's finest as well as American Bob May, fellow Scot Andrew Coltart and Ryder Cup team mates Lee Westwood and Paul McGinley.

Furthermore, the win moved him back into the world's top 10, having started the season in 14th place.

"It shows my peers that I'm still there, that I've not gone away and I'm still competitive at the highest level," Montgomerie said after his China victory.

"It's nice to show that. I was very tired coming over here from Spain -- getting to China is not the easiest route and all credit to my caddie and I for lasting out."

In addition to his two recent victories, Montgomerie has had a further seven top-10 finishes on the European Tour and ended the season fourth on the money list -- an improvement of one place from last year.

The Scot has two more events before taking an extended break before next year.

He will travel to Sun City in South Africa next week for the Nedbank Challenge, before closing his season at Tiger Woods's Target World Challenge in California.

The fact he will start among the favourites at both events shows just how he has managed to turn his season around.

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