Officially, he has been Europe's Ryder Cup captain for more than a year, shaking the hands, making the appearances and the wild-card picks, designing the team's schedule and even its bags.
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But as golf's longest prologue accelerated into its final phase at Celtic Manor this week, Colin Montgomerie was still visibly reveling in his role, brightening whenever he was addressed as Captain Montgomerie.
"That's a very polite start; I hope your question resembles it," he said to a reporter with mock gravity Monday.
Montgomerie, the bushy-haired 47-year-old Scot, has had other domains. He won the European Tour's Order of Merit a record seven consecutive times in the 1990s. But the Ryder Cup has been his happiest hunting ground, the place where he could throw back his sometimes sagging shoulders, flash his toothiest grin, adopt his finest head-of-the-family manner and make everyone forget, for the duration of a few days, that he had never managed to win a major championship.
"If he's anywhere near as good a Ryder Cup captain as he was a Ryder Cup player, he'll be tough to beat," said Tom Lehman, a former United States captain who is an assistant captain under Corey Pavin this year.
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The Cup is not the house that Montgomerie built for Europe. That honor belongs to the Englishman Tony Jacklin and the Spanish swashbuckler Seve Ballesteros, who played the leading roles in rescuing the Cup from American domination.
But Monty, as he has been known since childhood, has certainly been an excellent caretaker. From 1995 through 2006, with Montgomerie at his peak, Europe won five of six Cups. The only loss came in 1999 in Brookline, Mass., when the Americans roared back on the final day with the help of boisterous fans, some of whom yelled unprintable things at Montgomerie and caused his father, James, to leave the course.
Montgomerie qualified for his first team in 1991, intent on playing for Europe to honor his mother, Betty, who had died of lung cancer earlier that year at age 53. One of the first moves he made as a team member was to mistakenly put on the golf shoes of the European star Nick Faldo. But he would soon find his footing and his putting stroke, something that has proved more difficult for him when playing for himself.
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"I've always hit my putts slightly firmer in Ryder Cup play," Montgomerie said, pointing out that his succession of top partners, including Bernhard Langer and Padraig Harrington, have allowed him the freedom to be aggressive.