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European golf star Colin Montgomerie is showing off his game, personality

Colin Montgomerie sure is enjoying his Second Act.

Long known as the sometimes-grumpy, near-unbeatable thorn in the Americans’ side during Ryder Cup matches — as well as for his series of heartbreaking losses in golf’s major championships — the Scottish star seems like a different man since he joined the Champions Tour in 2013.

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year, further cementing his status as one of the best players ever to come out of Europe. He finally broke through in a major, winning the Senior PGA Championship in May. And he’s caught on as an analyst for the Golf Channel, flashing a personality that has begun to earn him a new rep among golf fans.

“When I’m walking around the courses on the ranges and on the Champions Tour, [people] say two things to me, really. The one thing is, ‘Congratulations on being inducted into the Hall of Fame,’ ” said Montgomerie, who will make his first visit to North Shore Country Club in Glenview for the Encompass Championship this week. “The second thing is, ‘I think you’re great on the Golf Channel.’ ”

Do not adjust your television sets — the witty, self-deprecating Monty you see on camera is the same one who dominated the European Tour in the 1990s.

“He’s kind of like a parallel to how [former world No. 1 golfer] Nick Faldo was. When Faldo went from player to the booth, you could see how good he is,” said Champions Tour player Fred Funk. Montgomerie “is funny, he’s got great wit. … He was always kind of that grumpy guy on the golf course, but on the TV and in person, he’s not like that.”

The most famous example of Montgomerie being grumpy on the golf course might have come during the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. Montgomerie carded a first-round 65 to take the lead after one day, but he faded in round two with a 76 that he blamed, in part, on fans who got drunk during a long rain delay.

Montgomerie’s relationship with American fans was often frosty after that — he was heckled mercilessly at the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, Massachusetts — and his TV persona seems to be influenced by some of those experiences. He’s conscious of how his critiques — both positive and negative — will be received, but still capable of giving an honest opinion. On Sunday, for example, he called Martin Kaymer’s eight-shot win at the U.S. Open the best performance he’d seen since Tiger Woods lapped the U.S. Open field by 15 strokes in 2000.

“I enjoy giving that opinion, because we’re all armchair critics, after all, and it’s nice to say what we feel, always in a very positive way,” Montgomerie said. “I would never be negative about a player because I know how difficult this blooming game is.”

That’s a lesson Montgomerie has often learned on big stages.

After attending Houston Baptist University in Texas, Montgomerie turned pro in 1987 and experienced instant success in Europe. He finished first in the Order of Merit — the European Tour’s money list — every year from 1993 to 1999, and won 31 European Tour events (the last in 2007). With that success came great expectations, but Montgomerie failed to break through in the majors or win a tournament in America.

Considered one of the best golfers never to win a major, Montgomerie has finished second on five occasions: the 1994, 1997 and 2006 U.S. Opens, the 1995 PGA Championship and the 2005 British Open. His four-stroke victory over Tom Watson at the Senior PGA in Benton Harbor, Michigan, on May 25 was his first major win and his first win on American soil.

“I think over the years trying to win a major in America, I think, ‘Was I impatient? Was I thinking about the result before it happened?’ All the things that you don’t do and you’re always told by psychologists not to do,” Montgomerie said. “I didn’t feel that way playing with [third-place finisher] Bernhard Langer on the Sunday there at Benton Harbor.”

Of course Montgomerie rarely felt that way when he was representing Europe in the pressure-packed Ryder Cup. The 51-year-old — he’ll turn 52 Monday — made his debut at the biannual event in 1991 and has a career record of 20-9-7 in 36 matches. He went undefeated in eight singles matches, and played on five winning teams.

Montgomerie captained the European team to victory in 2010, and was on hand to witness the team’s historic comeback in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.

“My last trip to the Chicago area, probably, was Medinah,” said Montgomerie with a laugh, taking the chance to needle U.S. golf fans just a bit. “We don’t know how we won that one. Good memories for Europeans, and I’m afraid, poor ones for the American fans.”

That’s right, the new Monty makes jokes.

“I think you do mellow with age, and I think you do mature as you get older and you learn,” Montgomerie said. “I do love the American way of life, I do enjoy everything regarding the golf life over here, and hopefully that’s coming across.”

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