Time no friend of Woosnam

THE little fella might have been three decades older than his 53 years the way he struggled up the hill.

“I’m absolutely knackered,” he sighed, having reached his destination before sharing without any fuss or self-pity a litany of ailments that includes pain in his hips and inflamed vertebrae.

Twenty years ago, Ian Woosnam had a very definite spring in his step when he came off the 18th green at Augusta National. The “wee Welshman” became the fourth European in a row to win the Masters, after Sandy Lyle and Nick Faldo (twice), and won his place in the affections of Euro golf fans that would result in him captaining the Ryder Cup team to victory at the K Club in 2006.

It was outgoing champion Faldo who placed the famous Green Jacket on Woosnam’s back in the spring of 1991, the Welshman having outlasted Jose Maria Olazabal and Tom Watson to win his first and only major title.

In an exciting conclusion, the trio had been tied at 11 under. Woosnam parred the 72nd hole but playing partner Watson double bogeyed the last while Olazabal, playing one group earlier, made bogey.

So little Woosie was the Masters champion, a stroke ahead of Olazabal, not that he remembers much about it.

“I must have a bad memory because I can hardly remember any of it,” he said with a laugh. “I can remember playing the last hole but that’s about it, and 16, but I think that’s because I’ve seen it on TV a few times.”

Twenty years on and Woosnam is as tenacious as ever, still battling the rheumatic disease ankylosing spondylitis, which has been inflaming his vertebra since 1987 and which hampered him around Augusta National to spoil his 20th anniversary.

It was so painful he had to carry a shooting stick in his bag in order to take rest stops around the course.

“I just had to have a sit down and take the spasm out of my back. Every now and again it seems to do this with my spondylitis and I just have to get used to it.

“I had it last week as well, playing (on the Champions Tour) in Mississippi, but I could play with a buggy last week. I was all right in Hong Kong (the previous week) but I got back from there and just couldn’t walk.”

Woosie may have a bad back and dodgy hips but the only real gripe to be detected was the pace of play of his group, which also included Americans DA Points and the man with a reputation for plodding play, Ben Crane.

“What are you saying? One of my partners is slow?” Woosnam flashed back with a glint in his eye when asked if the pace had been a contributory factor to his discomfort.

“Well, (the seat) is not a bad thing to have either way, it doesn’t weigh anything. Five and a half hours it was yesterday and another five today, it’s too slow really.”

Woosnam actually improved his score yesterday from his opening 78, taking a stroke off his second round with a 77.

“I played pretty good, my short game’s just not good enough really. But I’m just glad I played because I wasn’t going to play on the first day. My hips are all seized up again and I’ve had a lot of treatment and I’m very sore but I’m glad I played the two days and struggled through it.”

At least he was able to savour his anniversary in more convivial surroundings at the Masters’ Champions’ Dinner on Tuesday night, where Woosnam was a fan of Phil Mickelson’s menu selection, chosen in tribute to the absent Spaniard Seve Ballesteros.

“It was a great night, I enjoyed it and the Spanish dinner was lovely,” he said.

If nothing else, the champions’ dinners will keep Woosnam coming back to Augusta National, long after his body is no longer fit for purpose on the golf course.

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