New war of words over Montgomerie allegations

Lawrence Donegan at Wentworth
Monday May 30, 2005
The Guardian

Like God, the semantics of sport move in mysterious ways. Toss around the accusation "cheat" within the confines of a football stadium and few people care. But in golf, cheating - or rather its polar opposite, integrity - is everything. In a sport that likes to think it is a bastion of honesty, woe betide the man who challenges the honesty of a fellow player. People have ended up with a black eye after making such an accusation. Others have landed in court.

Against this fraught, litigious backdrop it is a brave golfer indeed who accuses another of undermining the integrity of the game. In suggesting this weekend that "98%" of tour players were unhappy with Colin Montgomerie's conduct over the infamous ball-replacing incident at the Indonesian Open, and that "there has been smoke around Monty before", Gary Evans has brought the European Tour into something approaching open conflict.

Yesterday the tour's chief executive George O'Grady called Evans's remarks "enormously disrespectful" and "unacceptable". O'Grady's demeanour suggested that Evans will be punished for his temerity in shifting the focus of attention away from what had developed into an exciting BMW Championship, the tour's blue riband event.

"I find it enormously disrespectful of this player if the comments attributed to him [Evans] are true," O'Grady said. "I demand he apologises. I would expect this player to apologise to Jamie Spence [chairman of the Tournament Players' Committee] and the 14 other elected members for publicly undermining the leadership of the tour." This committee reviewed Montgomerie's conduct a fortnight ago, expressed its dissatisfaction with it, and then declared the matter closed.

O'Grady added that the tour could not afford to indulge in such self-criticism with so much money now at stake. But leaving aside the issue of free dom of speech for players, the chief executive is swimming against the tide.

These days golfers are under more scrutiny than ever: witness the recent controversies involving Spain's Miguel Angel Martin, who was disqualified after the first round of the British Masters at Woburn this month when a television viewer spotted him standing on a sapling to improve his backswing, and even Tiger Woods, who suffered the indignity of having the legality of his driver tested when a fellow pro, Tom Pernice, complained to officials having watched Woods on TV smashing his tee-shot 40 yards past Phil Mickelson's.

In contrast to Woods's rarified place in the golfing firmament, Evans is your archetypal journeyman pro. But as a professional on the European Tour his words carry significant weight. Even in his moment of boldness, though, Evans maintained a veneer of circumspection.

"I am not accusing Monty of cheating," he said on the subject that has gripped the European tour over the last few weeks - a rules controversy that can be summarised thus.

During the second round of the Indonesian Open in March, Montgomerie hit his ball near the edge of a bunker on the 14th hole. He spent 20 seconds trying, and failing, to take a stance, before play was called to a halt because of bad weather. He stalked off, leaving the ball where it lay. When he returned the following day the ball had disappeared. He replaced it - as required by the rules - but did so in a spot where he was able to take a stance, from where he made an easy par.

On Saturday, Evans landed in the media tent at Wentworth and proceeded to launch into a lengthy tirade, suggesting, "If [Montgomerie] is so upset why not DQ himself, give his money back to the tour and remove the world ranking points? I think there should be a 24- to 48-hour period when, if anything is dubious, it can be reviewed by a panel like they do in rugby. We are playing for so much money that the onus needs to be taken off the player."

Limited though it was, the Englishman's caution might be enough to keep the lawyers from his door, but it is unlikely to spare him the wrath of the tour's hierarchy. The European tour has rules prohibiting its members making "any public comment [that] will harm the reputation, or the interests of a tournament sponsor, promoter or player".

Evans is not one of life's compromisers and, should he stay true to his character, he will not be grovelling at anyone's feet any time soon, in which case he can expect a hefty fine - possibly as much as £5,000 - for bringing the tour into disrepute.

The "98%" unhappiness figure is undoubtedly an exaggeration, although nowhere near as outlandish as the suggestion made by Montgomerie's agent, Guy Kinnings, that Evans is a lone voice on this issue. It remains to be seen, however, whether his fellow professionals will countenance a situation in which the only person punished in this affair is not José Zamora (the tournament official who reviewed a video of Montgomerie incorrectly replacing his ball and ruled, incredibly, that no penalty should be imposed) or Montgomerie (who reviewed the same footage, declared himself unhappy with his own conduct and donated his £24,000 prize winnings to charity), but Evans, who was only voicing publicly what others have been muttering privately for weeks.

Of course, it is reasonable to argue that Montgomerie has been punished, albeit not in a financial sense. There is little doubt it will take some time for his reputation among his peers to recover. It possibly never will. For a fiercely proud, and psychologically fragile, man such as the Scot, this outcome is almost too awful to contemplate.

"I am just glad I was able to go out on to the golf course and prove to myself and everyone else that I can still do what I do best," Montgomerie said after shooting 66 in the final round yesterday to finish just outside the top 10. He was then asked about Evans's remarks. At times during his response he seemed on the verge of tears. "I am very hurt. Everyone is entitled to give an opinion. No I won't be speaking to Gary Evans. I thought this issue was all dead and buried."

Fat chance, someone muttered as the Scot stomped off towards the Wentworth clubhouse. Montgomerie has been virtually monosyllabic on the subject of the Indonesian Open for weeks, no doubt at the instruction of his handlers, IMG, which had been running a ruthlessly effective media campaign to protect him until Evans spoke out. But it would be surprising if, in his quieter moments, the Scot did not wish he'd been able to disqualify himself as a means of atonement, rather than being left only with the option of making a charitable donation.

If there is anything to be learned out of this messy business, it is that Montgomerie, or any player who finds himself in a similar situation, should be allowed this choice.

Wrangles with the rules

Colin Montgomerie

The Scot fails to mark his ball beside a bunker when play at the Indonesian Open in March is halted by a thunderstorm. The ball is lost overnight and the Scot replaces it inaccurately, allowing him to play it without having to stand in the bunker. Watching on television, the Danish golfer Soren Kjeldsen spots the infringement and contacts the tournament referee, as does the Asian PGA tour board member Gerry Norquist. The referee decrees that no rule has been broken, but Montgomerie gives his winnings from finishing fourth to charity.

Miguel Angel Martin

Disqualified after the first round of the British Masters at Woburn this month after standing on a small sapling that would otherwise have hampered his backswing. Martin denies deliberately breaking the rule not to improve the line of a swing. In 2002, the Dutchman Maarten Lafeber initially refused to sign Martin's card at the Portuguese Open after saying he had repeatedly flattened the grass behind his ball to improve his lie.

Tiger Woods

The legality of Woods's Nike driver is tested, and passed, after US Tour professional Tom Pernice notifies the US PGA of his concerns that Woods, pictured, hit a tee-shot 44 yards past Phil Mickelson at the Ford Championship at Doral in March.To add spice, Pernice is one of Vijay Singh's closest friends on the circuit, intensifying the spiky relationship between the world's top two.

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