BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - Colin Montgomerie, the long-time whipping boy of American golf fans, is a changed man, literally and figuratively.
"I just feel a little bit better about myself, and self-esteem is huge in this game," he said. "And I'm getting a lot of positive crowd reaction out there."
The last time the Ryder Cup was played in the United States in 1999, Montgomerie - a Scotsman with a reputation for a short fuse - was the subject of many jeers from the rowdy crowds at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. The abuse got so bad that Montgomerie's father left the course early in disgust.
Monty, who has lost 36 pounds since mid-July, said he doesn't expect a repeat performance at Oakland Hills, where the 35th Ryder Cup matches get under way today.
"I don't think Brookline will appear again," he said. "I think the world is a different place, a better place since then. I don't think we'll have that situation at all."
It already has been a tough year for the 41-year-old Montgomerie. He not only has had to endure the very public breakup of his 14-year marriage, he has struggled on the course, where he has just two top-10 finishes since a victory at the Singapore Masters in March.
Despite his struggles, European captain Bernhard Langer made Montgomerie a captain's pick. Langer's selection was an easy one, considering Montgomerie's stellar 16-7-5 record in six previous Ryder Cups - the best winning percentage in European history.
"I think I've been very fortunate in the partners that I've managed to obtain over the years, " Montgomerie said.
He has dropped just two of his last 16 matches, and is 4-0-2 in singles competition.
"Monty's record speaks for itself," Irish-born Darren Clarke said. "He's a veteran. He's been there, he's done it. And I think a lot of us are looking for him to do it again. "
Montgomerie is the unquestioned leader of the European team, which has won six of the last nine Ryder Cups.
"He doesn't really have to say too much," teammate Lee Westwood said. "He's just got presence."
SICK FEELING: At age 50, American Jay Haas is the second-oldest player in Ryder Cup history.
He just hopes this year's event turns out better than his last appearance nine years ago at Oak Hill.
As he walked off the 18th green in 1995, after conceding a bogey during his Sunday singles match, Haas felt as low as he ever has on a golf course. His loss allowed the Europeans to take home the trophy.
"For a long time, I remember seeing the replay six months after that, and I turned it off," Haas said.
"I got sick to the stomach, just recalling what I felt like walking off that green Sunday, and at the closing ceremonies.
"You know, I've let that go and I don't feel like I'm trying to prove anything. I'm not trying to pay back or anything."
NOT FORGOTTEN: Payne Stewart has been dead for almost five years, but his memory lives on in the United States team room.
Captain Hal Sutton brought along a large framed photo of Stewart, himself and David Duval celebrating their 1999 Ryder Cup win from a balcony at Brookline.
"I felt like everybody needed to remember Payne," Sutton said. "He has a prominent spot in our team room this week."
Stewart, who had an 8-9-2 in five Ryder Cup events, died in a plane crash a month after the Americans' improbable win. "Every time we play one of these, we think about him," Davis Love III said.
GROWING UP: Sergio Garcia is just 24, but only three members of the European team have more Ryder Cup experience.
Garcia is 6-3-1 in his two previous trips, but 0-2 in singles matches.
"I'd rather lose my singles match and win the Ryder Cup than win it and lose the Ryder Cup," he said.
Garcia has faced Tiger Woods three times, and holds a 2-1 edge.
"I've always enjoyed playing against him," Garcia said. "I've always felt, to me, that playing against really good players makes me try a bit harder. It kind of raises my game a little bit."
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