Monty relishes chance to pair with Tiger

— -- ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- His honesty is appreciated, if not astute.

Colin Montgomerie knows the task at hand, knows that giving Tiger Woods two shots a side is about as pleasing as haggis is to an American.

The streakers who make their usual appearance at the Open Championship have a better chance of going unnoticed than Monty does beating Tiger.

But is it really such a good idea to admit it?

Does acknowledging the greatness of Tiger -- and all but handing him the Claret Jug on Friday -- make sense? Does it feed the beast?

There was ol' Monty after shooting a 6-under 66 at the Old Course to put himself in the final pairing with Woods, almost talking as if the tournament is over.

"If Tiger Woods plays the way that Tiger Woods can play around this type of golf course, I would have to agree with a number of other players that second place is what we're doing," said Montgomerie, 42, who has never won a major championship. "We are watching here a unique golfer on a unique golf course, and it will be a privilege to play with him."

Of course, Monty has some experience with this situation.

Remember the 1997 Masters?

Woods was playing in his first major as a pro. He had just shot 66 in the second round to take a three-shot lead over Monty. At the time, Monty was in his prime, in the midst of a run on European money titles. He was just 33 years old, more experienced, having twice lost majors in playoffs.

And Tiger dusted him, 65 to 74.

"It was phenomenal," Montgomerie said. "I was one of the few people to see that up very close. I was very impressed then, as I'm sure I'll be [Saturday]. I'm always impressed with his attitude and his mental strength, more than anything. People talk about the length he hits the ball and everything else, but he's mentally the toughest of anyone out there."

And Monty? Well, he's not so tough in that regard.

He admitted Saturday that when he held the 36-hole lead at Royal Lytham in 2001, a missed birdie putt that would have given him a two-stroke advantage played on his mind. He knew he wasn't going to win. And he didn't, falling out of the top 10.

Marital problems, putting problems ? they all conspired against Monty.

But here he is, in the final group on Saturday, a Scotsman at the home of golf. This might be his last, best chance to win that elusive major.

No doubt, getting into a war of words with Woods isn't going to work. Neither is talking tough. Maybe showing respect to Woods and giving him all the credit takes the pressure off.

"I look forward to the crowd, I look forward to the whole atmosphere of the day," Montgomerie said. "I've played with Tiger a few times now in major tournaments and major competitions and I look forward to playing with him and especially around a course like this.

"I do enjoy the fact that the crowd are very much behind me here and playing at the home of golf in Scotland."

We'll see if that can help make up four strokes. Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to He can be reached at