There is something about Mauritius which makes me think of old-time explorers, ones who came across the island after weeks at sea and were awed by the beautiful beaches, steep mountains and lush trees.
When locals point into those trees at the fruit and spices I can pluck from their branches I genuinely feel like a 16th century traveller, one who might have been awed by the possibilities of trekking inland to discover the local wildlife.
Perhaps that’s why I found myself, on day one of the MCB Tour Championship, excited by the prospect of trailing one of golf’s most famous creatures. No, not the famous golfing Tiger, but an animal whose reputation also goes beyond the game and is built on not only a unique talent, but a personality and facial expressions that are unmistakeably his.
There are plenty of golfers who hide behind wraparound sunglasses and underneath caps. They are rarely excited, rarely reveal their frustrations. Indeed they take great pride in the fact that you cannot tell if they have just made birdie or bogey.
Colin Montgomerie is not one of those golfers.
In fact he has more quirks and idiosyncrasies than entire fields put together. Consider, for example, that habit he has of taking two steps forward in a sentence and one step back – he repeats words like he’s a YouTube video being buffered. It’s extraordinary and uniquely Monty.
He is, as the British say, a bit like Marmite (you either love or hate him). But the fact he inspires passionate responses is good for the game. Better that than 156 automatons standing on the tee.
And on day one at Constance Belle Mare Plage’s Legends course, Monty was, well, not quite in his element (it was too hot for that), but he gave the crowd what they came to see.
He opened with a birdie three at the first hole, but he completed it only after patiently, and with good humour, asking for a few of the fans not to take photos at the wrong moment. On the next tee he repeated the request and laughed: “You don’t want to make my caddie angry.”
Behind the second green he stopped for a few seconds with fans to watch the deer scurry through the bushes, a peculiarly Christmassy scene in the middle of the Indian Ocean. On the fourth tee he took shade in the trees and joked with the crowds about the boiling temperatures.
It was classic Monty: he’s genuinely quite funny when he interacts with the public, he was also pulling all those over-the-top dramatic facial expressions he likes (and which have a sort of cartoon-like honesty) and his famously languid swing was arrowing the ball at the flag. By the eighth he was five-under-par and leading the tournament.
But on the ninth green he was looking hot and the fact he was distracted by a banging noise coming the clubhouse suggested he was getting bothered. More classic Monty.
On the 13th he hit an approach shot into the trees and followed it with a tee shot on the 14th into the woods. Suddenly it was not Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, but Monty the red faced golfer. (He wasn’t the only one, though – there were red faces everywhere.)
He had chances to recover those dropped shots. But he missed an eight foot birdie putt on the 17th and three-putted from 18 feet having made the par-five final green in two blows.
This is not quite the Monty of old however. He said in the tournament press conference that when the “gun goes off we’re all as competitive as ever”, but he didn’t stomp away from the 18th green this time. His shoulders were slumped, he scrunched his face up and raised his eyebrows in a typically expansive show of bemusement. No-one rushed to ask for his post-round thoughts, but no-one was scared of him either, as they have been in the past.
And he’s only four shots back. He drew the biggest gallery today and is sure to for the rest of the week. It’s still not out of the question that he’ll be in contention come Sunday afternoon – and the back nine on the final day is a habitat Monty is right at home in, even the more cuddly version.
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