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On going with good grace
Steen Tinning rose phoenix like from the ashes of what was once a promising career to win the Madrid Open. At the age of 40 and after surviving a near fatal car crash in Germany that nearly cost him an arm as well as a leg, and further, after years of nursing a bad back that has had him spend more hours in the physio-van than on the practise ground, he has won again.

Steen's career has not been distinguished. He won only once before on the Tour, at the Wales Open in 2000. But he is the much admired and respected grand old man of Scandinavian golf and, I suspect about to conclude his 15 years on the Tour in style.

One can feel assured that Steen will go quietly with a surfeit of decorum and taste, and with no fanfare. He may perhaps consider what might have been when he regards his Scandinavian contemporaries but he will nevertheless be grateful for the life style that golf has enabled him to enjoy. Certainly, he will not be boring us to death with his biographical memory editing and inane reflections.

Colin Montgomerie is also 40 and also threatening retirement. He has announced that he would like to win just one more time before he bows out and Valderama, in two weeks time, is what he has in mind. This fills me with apprehension for Monty has stated that he is likely to turn to TV commentating, and actually said how much he is looking forward to it.

My apprehension is concerned with his competitiveness. Many will recall how he explained his philosophy on child rearing with the anecdote of how he always went for the win with his kids at snakes and ladders. Not even his own kids would appear to be given a glimpse of the sun when Pop is around. Imagine, then, his commentaries. One only has to wince to remember his many and laboured interviews when, between face pulls and frequent frightening smiles he explained nothing of any significance at astronomical length in response to some banal question. Monty has the capacity to make Steve Davies seem interesting and has introduced a wholly new scale to the boredom index.

Why is it that so many great sportsmen cannot retire with good grace? It would be nice if Monty was remembered as a great player and not a sad case regularly interviewed to fill TV time going on about his current problems and grimacing ineloquently yet undoubtedly bravely about it. Indeed, making it absolutely clear that despite bearing his cross he is doing remarkably well - although the greens could have been better - and almost certainly winning were he not suffering such pain.

Monty's record is marvellous. With only the Volvo Masters left counting, 2002 is the only year, excluding early hiccups in 1990 and 1992 that he has not won since bursting onto the scene in 1989. His rise to dominance was dramatic.

In his first year on the Tour in 1987 he was 164th in the Order of Merit. In 1988 he was 52nd, in 1989, 25th, in 1990, 14th, in 1991, 4th and in 1992, 3rd. For the rest of the ninth decade he led the OM, often by huge margins, and even in the new millennium he has been 6th and 5th, as he is again this year.

Monty is already the highest earnings player the Tour has known at over £9 million. Bernhard Langer is £3 million behind him and he has taken twice as much from the pot than Faldo. With purses ever increasing this is not a record that is likely to endure although it is unlikely that anyone will overturn his seven successive leading OM record.

He has been a prolific winner on the Tour with 26 victories but is some way behind Ballesteros with 50 wins, Langer with 41, Faldo with 30 and Woosnam with 29. He is not likely to catch them now and, unlike those named, he has not held aloft the caret jug nor donned the green jacket. If you have done that then you needs say nothing and you can go on playing just for the sheer hell of it, simply enjoying yourself like Woosnam and Langer, or for the suffering like Faldo and Ballesteros.

But despite his Majors flops Monty will not be forgotten. No footnote in history awaits such a golfer of outsize personality or character. Whether or not his association with US galleries will be recorded as his greatest hours, he will enter that very special and much discussed category of 'the greatest player never to have won a Major'.

I very much doubt if Monty could ever hang up his clubs. His competitive, bullish personality will always be seeking the next contest and having so recently lived through his greatest hour at The Belfry with the accolades and the microphones, he is likely to press on gripping his back as he slides down the OM for a few years yet.

Steen Tinning, on the other hand, may not even make a footnote outside of Wales, Madrid and perhaps golfing circles in Denmark. But he will be recalled with much affection in the game. He certainly spoke volumes about himself when he publicly thanked his caddie for pointing out to him that the ball was getting further back in his putting stance. Monty, if I recall properly, once publicly acknowledged his osteopath.

©    28 - OCTOBER 2002

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