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Colin Montgomerie and wife seperate

Colin Montgomerie, a golfer who confesses to an almost obsessive dislike of failure, has conceded defeat in the biggest challenge of his life.

Europe's finest player for much of his 14-year marriage, Montgomerie announced on Thursday that he was separating from his wife Eimear with a view to divorce.

In a terse statement, the 40-year-old Briton said it was a "desperate decision for us both and a painful time for the family".

A friend of the couple described him as being "destructed" by the split. She said nobody else was involved in the breakup.

Golf, though, is firmly in the frame as the guilty third party.

Montgomerie, blessed with more money than he can ever need, a palatial home in the heart of the English countryside and a European record of seven Order of Merit titles, has paid a high price for his relentless drive for success.

The couple, who have three children, briefly split in 2000. In his autobiography The Full Monty, Montgomerie blamed it on his obsession with his profession.

"What was happening was, little by little, golf was taking over. I was bringing my golf home and even when I was there, I wasn't giving as much attention to Eimear and the children as I should have done. I was constantly thinking of something else.

"I wasn't a proper husband or a proper father. It almost broke my life," he wrote.

Ever since he joined the professional ranks in 1988 and became the European rookie of the year, "Monty" has believed that only 100 percent dedication would do if he wanted to realise all his ambitions.

Golfers these days pride themselves on physical fitness and a clear head -- Tiger Woods, the runaway world number one, has set that example. The money can be good but it's hard work.

Every player devotes hours to the practice range and putting greens before and after the five hours or so spent on the course during tournaments.

As often as not this is followed by more time in the gym or testing new equipment. The days when golfers propped up the bar after a round of golf are long gone.

Players who fail to make the halfway cut earn nothing and the costs of travelling around Europe and beyond come to well over $50,000 on a Tour which runs for 10 months of the year.

And despite all his dedication Montgomerie has still failed to fulfil his ultimate golfing ambition of winning one of the sport's four major titles. He is now ranked 45th in the world and very much a declining force.

Montgomerie is by no means the only player whose family life has crumbled in a relentless search for success.

Sandy Lyle, the former British Open and US Masters champion, was one of the first to commiserate with his fellow Scot on hearing the news in Milan on Thursday.

"It's such a shame," he told Reuters. "The main thing now is just to make sure the children are okay." He was speaking from experience as his first marriage fell apart in the late 1980s.

The game is littered with similar casualties - Fred Couples, Nick Faldo and John Daly to name but three leading players from the 1990s have gone through a divorce.

All are reckoned to have put golf before family and all the evidence suggests that when they switched the balance, their games suffered.

David Duval, the 2001 British Open champion, is possibly the best example of this. He won in Royal Lytham with a game based on clockwork efficiency, a honed physique based on many a hard hour in the gym and a frightening intensity.

Having attained his ultimate goal, his hunger for glory was inevitably blunted and he discovered that there were other things to life than winning golf tournaments.

In March this year, he married and inherited three step children. He is fulfilled as an individual and his game has rarely been in worse shape. From world ranked number one in the late 1990s, he slipped into the 200s last year.

As many have commented in relation to the recently engaged Woods, the true test of Tiger's greatness will come only once he gets married.

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