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Rabbit ears don't help Monty in the States

It was a beautiful morning at the TPC-Sawgrass, a lovely day for golf, as Colin Montgomerie might say. Back on American soil Wednesday, the Scotsman prepared for the start of the Players Championship.

He wasn't wearing earplugs.

Perhaps that is the tool he needs most in his quest to win a tournament on the PGA Tour. Montgomerie, a seven-time PGA European Tour Order of Merit winner, can't get out of his own way when he plays on this side of the pond.

A crying baby, a honking horn, a rowdy fan _ they all have a way of getting into his head far more than would be expected of a player of his caliber.

When last seen in the States a month ago Monty was bemoaning his fate once again, complaining about heckling at the Match Play Championship, where he was dispatched in the first round by Scott McCarron. He threatened to never come back. His emotions clearly got the best of him.

"There's only one thing worse than losing," he said then. "And that's spending another day in your ------- country. "It's clear to me there will never be a level playing field over here. What can I possibly hope to achieve over here if spectators don't allow me to compete on the same terms as everyone else? I'll be 39 years old in June. I just don't need this anymore."

So it was back to his home in England, where the e-mails flooded in, overwhelmingly positive.

Monty has had a change of heart, although he had threatened to stop coming to the United States after this year. He withdrew from last week's Bay Hill Invitational to play in the PGA European Tour's Qatar Masters, but he is eager to tee it up today in the $6-million Players Championship. He plans to play the next two PGA Tour events in Houston and Atlanta before the Masters.

"I'm not going to let a few disruptive fans wreck 99 percent of the fans here," Montgomerie said after a practice session. "Everybody's been very pleasant. I've gotten (e-mails) from all sorts, from players, from the PGA, from fans. I'm competitive as a person and it would be a shame to let that go. I need to play. I haven't played that much golf. Last week was my first four-round tournament of the year."

Montgomerie has 26 career European titles and four times has been named European player of the year. But other than a Skins Game and an offseason match-play event Montgomerie has not won in the United States.

He has suffered heartbreaking losses here, including the 1994 U.S. Open and the '95 PGA Championship in playoffs. At the '97 U.S. Open he finished third to Ernie Els.

It was around that time that the heckling started to become an issue. Monty had heard it at the '95 Ryder Cup, but he clearly became unnerved by it at the U.S. Open.

And once it became known that Montgomerie was bothered, rowdy fans had more incentive. The behavior was probably at its worst at the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, Mass., where alcohol played a factor. The heckling was so bad the late Payne Stewart, Montgomerie's opponent in the Sunday singles, came to his defense.

Nonetheless, many who witness the outbursts say it is a few fans among thousands.

"I think Monty brings a lot of this on himself," said Arnold Palmer, who two years ago went to PGA Tour officials and asked to be paired with Montgomerie the first two rounds of the Bay Hill Invitational so Palmer could keep an eye on possible hecklers.

"I would like to say I am a fan of Colin, but I think he brings it on himself," Brad Faxon said. "If he wants to do well here he has to change the way he acts. He needs to look in the mirror and say, "It is me, not them.' "

"You just don't pay any attention to it," said two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal. "You just try to do what you have to do and don't allow these things to interfere. Sometimes you have 20,000, 30,000 people watching the four matches at the Ryder Cup. It's very difficult to have everybody behaving properly. You have to be prepared for that. It's just very simple."

Olazabal won the 1999 Masters, beating Greg Norman and a pro-Norman crowd. He drowned out the noise to claim his second green jacket.

Montgomerie, one of the finest players to emerge from Europe, has had no such luck and seems resigned to his fate.

"It's not just me, either," he said. "I'm sure everybody gets a little bit of a stick here and there. Toward the end of the afternoon, it seems things tend to happen.

"I know (the hecklers are) there. They've been there for a few years. They're there at the Ryder Cup, they're there at the other majors, they're there at the PGA at Wentworth (in Europe). I don't want to treat (this tournament) any differently."