April 1991, Masters Tournament, Augusta National
Having recently decided to hang up his Masters’ boots for good, it seems only fitting that we revisit Ian Woosnam’s finest hour, which, of course, came with the Welshman’s stunning victory at the 1991 US Masters.
Woosie arrived at Augusta that year at the very top of his game, with only defending champion Nick Faldo ahead of him in the world ranking. With five top-10 finishes at the Masters already on his CV, the ‘Welsh Wizard’ was certainly not without a shout, although he probably wasn’t on many people’s betting slips outside his home town of Oswestry.
Five off the pace after a steady, if unspectacular, opening 72, Woosnam responded with six-under-par 66 on day two which got him within two strokes of halfway leader, and home favourite, Tom Watson, who had fired back-to-back 68s.
Woosnam carried that good form into Saturday, firing a five-under-par 67 which was good enough to earn him the outright lead on 11 under, one ahead of Watson and three clear of Ryder Cup team-mate José-Maria Olazabal.
The Welshman had extended his advantage to three by the turn on the final day, but a bogey at the 10th and another at the par-five 13th, which Olazabal birdied and Watson got the home fans off their seats with an eagle-three, saw his advantage all but disappear.
Olazabal birdied 14 to draw level, and both birdied the next as Watson rolled in another eagle putt at 15 to make it a three-way tie for the lead and set up a pulsating finish.
A play-off looked a certainty with the leading trio still tied at the top playing the 18th, but Olazabal bogeyed and, with Watson struggling to save par, Woosnam missed the green left and pitched to six feet. Watson, winner of the green jacket back in 1981, failed to save par, and Woosnam was left with a tricky six-footer for a chance of golfing immortality. He held his nerve to stroke in the curling putt for the winning par and as the ball hit the cup he crouched down and pumped his fist before being swept off his feet by caddie Phil ‘Wobbly’ Morbey, creating another iconic Masters image.
Recalling the final hole years later, Woosnam said: “Well, I’m not much of a fader of the ball, so I tried to hit it straight off the tee, but the wind was off the right. I was pretty pumped up, so I felt that I could carry the left-hand bunker, and I knew there was going to be no trouble down there. I knew José Maria [Olazabal] had taken a bogey – I watched him hit it in the trees – so I was playing to a safe area to basically try and make a par.
I hit my second shot to just off the edge of the green. If it had been earlier in the week, I would have chipped it, but I looked at the grain and I thought ‘no, there’s all these people around, it’s not a good time to stub one’, so I got the putter out. I thought it was going to go to the left a little bit, but it jumped across the grass and went six-foot past. But you know it’s your time when you’ve got a putt and you can just see the line straightaway. It was one ball outside the right, couldn’t have been a simpler putt. I said to myself, ‘This is your chance’ and hit the putt. Fortunately, it went in. You dream of holing a putt on the last hole to win the Masters, and my dream came true.”
Woosnam’s Masters win was his one and only Major triumph. He came close a few times, finishing one shot behind Curtis Strange at the US Open in 1989, and, most notably, when finishing third at The Open in 2001, where he was penalised two shots at the first hole of the final round for having one too many clubs in his bag. He finished four shots behind the eventual winner, David Duval, but dropped shots at the third and fourth holes, no doubt caused by his earlier setback, did for him in the end.
Still, 52 career wins, including 29 on the European Tour, two European money list titles, 50 weeks as world No.1, entry in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017, and an OBE, make for pretty good reading for a man who stood at just 5ft 41/2 inches in his spikes.
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