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Price a reminder of the games sportsmanship

Golf's traditional honesty and sportsmanship provided one of the main talking points of last week's WGC-World Match Play Championship.

Briton Colin Montgomerie, who came from two behind with three holes remaining to beat Zimbabwe's Nick Price at the 20th hole of their first round match, was startled by the generosity of his opponent in defeat.

"He said, 'Well done, great putt, good comeback.' That's what I didn't expect to hear," Montgomerie said.

"Put it this way -- he wasn't getting that out of me if that happened (if Price had won in similar fashion).

"It was amazing. He's such a lovely fellow. I wanted not to like him for four hours, but you can't. He's such a nice guy."

The 40-year-old Scot, seven-times the European number one, had rolled in a long birdie putt at the 16th to kickstart his comeback. He then sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the second extra hole to seal victory.

Price has long been regarded as one of the true gentleman in the game and Montgomerie conceded he would not have been anywhere as gracious had he lost to the Zimbabwean.

"I don't think so," replied the Briton, whose golfing temperament has been notoriously fragile in the past when events have not gone his way.

Price's sportsmanlike comment in defeat was fairly typical in professional golf.

The laws of etiquette, especially with regard to courtesy on course, provide golf with an enviable set of checks and balances.

A "win-at-all-costs" mentality appears to have replaced old-fashioned sportsmanship in virtually every other sport, but the overwhelming majority of golfers continue to compete in a civilized atmosphere with a hand shake at the end.

Over the years, though, there have been a few notable exceptions that prove the rule - most of them occurring in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Ryder Cup, the biennial team competition between Europe and the United States.

During the 1999 matches at The Country Club in Brookline, emotions simmered as the European team were accused of deliberately slowing the pace of play while the Americans were accused of inciting the crowd and generally overreacting.

The situation came to a head in the last-day singles when Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal and American Justin Leonard were locked in a gripping contest that would decide the Cup.

At the 17th hole, Leonard holed a monster putt from 50 feet, triggering a mass invasion of the green by several American players and their wives.

Olazabal, facing a putt of around 25 feet, had a chance to square the hole but, with his concentration broken by the hysteria, missed.

Post-mortems into the whys and wherefores of that infamous day rumbled on for several months and one can only wonder what the likes of golfing greats Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead would have made of it all.

However, three years later, despite an equally intense competition, the next edition of the event took place in a marvellous atmosphere mutual respect.

The Ryder Cup also produced one of the most famous sporting gestures of all when in 1969 at Royal Birkdale Jack Nicklaus, in the final singles encounter, conceded a missable putt to Tony Jacklin for a half.

It meant Britain and the United States tied the match for the first time, at 16 points all and the gesture was all the more impressive having come after earlier acrimony.

Britain's captain Eric Brown had instructed his players not to look for the opposition ball if it ended up in the rough while American Ken Still, in the first-day foursomes, had been guilty of childish gamesmanship at the expense of Briton Maurice Bembridge when he regularly stood too close as his opponent was putting.

Arnold Palmer, whose electrifying style of play in the early 1960s transformed golf into a game for the masses, expressed concern that standards were slipping in his 1999 autobiography "A Golfer's Life".

"When I see modern stars of the game ignoring the basic fundamentals of personal courtesy or, worse, treating fans and even sponsors with indifference or disrespect. I worry about the future of golf because it means something vital is no longer being given to the game and (to) those who support it," he said.

As long as players like Price and ever-respectful world number one Tiger Woods continue to capture golfing headlines for the right reasons, Palmer's fears are probably ungrounded.

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