AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The cinematic references have become a wee bit more flattering to Colin Montgomerie.
Europe's premier golfer over the past four years was asked yesterday if he felt that the Oscar success of "Braveheart," the tale of a Scottish hero of an earlier age, was an omen for him at the Masters. It's a dramatic change from last year, when he was likened to another movie character with an accent from across the pond: Mrs. Doubtfire.
If Montgomerie used to resemble Robin Williams in drag, now his muscle tone is closer to Mel Gibson's. Montgomerie has dropped 40 pounds in the past year and beefed up his game.
"I didn't do it to improve my golf; I did it to improve my health," Montgomerie said, but his new look nonetheless has reshaped his game for the better.
"I didn't need to lose weight to become a better golfer. It just happens that I'm stronger now. I'm stronger and fitter and hitting shots that I couldn't hit before."
The target this week is something that has eluded Montgomerie. For the opening round of the Masters today, the pairings committee acknowledged the obvious, sending off Montgomerie with Davis Love III, his competition for the title of the World's Best Player Never To Have Won A Major.
Love finished a stroke behind Ben Crenshaw here last year. Even though Montgomerie is still looking for his first tour win in the U.S., he has come even closer to winning a major championship.
Two years ago, he lost a playoff to Ernie Els in the U.S. Open. Last year, it was a playoff loss to Steve Elkington in the PGA, albeit after Montgomerie had birdied the last three holes of regulation at Riviera.
That was Montgomerie's only Top 10 finish in the United States in 1995, but he made an immediate splash upon his arrival this year, tying for second behind Fred Couples at the Tournament Players Championship two weeks ago.
The Masters knocks against Montgomerie are that a low-ball hitter who prefers a fade to a draw doesn't have a prayer at Augusta National Golf Club. His best finish in four previous starts was last year's tie for 17th.
"I haven't proved myself here yet," Montgomerie said. "The U.S. Open and the PGA I always say are my best chance of winning major championships, but that's not to say I can't win here. I know I can win here. I've just got to be extra patient, as I am at the U.S. Open. The word par means something there, as it does here."
Nick Faldo, Masters champion in 1989 and '90, said it's only a matter of time before his Ryder Cup partner breaks through.
"He's got some desire in him," Faldo said. "People don't give guys enough credit for playing well week in and out, being up there on the leader board. It's a tough thing to do."
Not all of the Masters challenges for Montgomerie have come on the course.
"It's tougher over here," Montgomerie said of maintaining his weight, which has dropped from 230 pounds to 190.
"The food over here is more full of fat than we have at home even. You've got to be disciplined, and I have been since I've been over here.
"I used to have some lovely junior club sandwiches at this golf club, and I'm not allowed them anymore. It's quite a shame.
"Just a very, very light breakfast and then I have a salad and a non-fat dinner. Nothing that contains the word fried or contains the word fat or anything like that."
If he has taken a liking to greens for lunch, Montgomerie also has come to terms with the putting surfaces at Augusta National, where the bent grass has tortured him.
"I haven't putted real well here in the four previous occasions," he said. "You know as well as I do that the winner of this tournament putts well and holes out particularly well, and that's what I've got to do. I know that. It's quite a simple objective."
There's one other thing Montgomerie must do.
"To win here, you've got to be brave," he said.
Dates: Today through Sunday
Site: Augusta, Ga.
Course: Augusta National Golf Club (6,925 yards, par 72)
TV: USA (Today-tomorrow, 4-6: 30 p.m. and 9-11: 30 p.m.); chs. 13, 9 (Today-tomorrow, 11: 35-11: 50 p.m.; Saturday, 3: 30-6 p.m.; Sunday, 4-7 p.m.).
Height: 6-1. Weight: 190
Born: Glasgow, Scotland
Home: Oxshott, England
College: Houston Baptist
PGA Tour victories: 0
1995 PGA earnings: $335,617
1995 European tour earnings: 1,038,718 pounds
Masters finishes: T37th, T52nd, missed cut, T17th
Ryder Cup teams: '91, '93, '95
Pub Date: 4/11/96