He played only nine holes on the eve of what will be his 32nd Masters appearance, but it was obvious Ian Woosnam was hurting. The 1991 champion’s 30-year bout with ankylosing spondylitis, a rheumatic disease that can cause his vertebrae to lock, is never-ending, and he thought it prudent to stop at the turn.
“I think this is going to be my last time playing here,” said Woosnam, who last made the halfway cut in the Masters back in 2008, the same year he last shot a sub-par round. “I’m just in too much pain. And it happens every time I get here. It must be the hills because I’ve been playing and hitting a lot of balls recently with no ill-effects. But as soon as I get on this course my back bothers me.”
We’ve been here before, of course. Three years ago, Woosnam was saying pretty much the same thing and actually announced his retirement from Masters play. But this time sounds even more convincing. His old friend, 1988 champion Sandy Lyle -- the pair have been competing together since their early teens -- certainly fears the worst.
“I could see Ian was having trouble walking between shots,” said the Scot. “Which is such a shame. He’s hitting the ball so nicely. I hope he isn’t done but if he is he has nothing to be ashamed of. He’s had a great career.”
Indeed, Woosnam’s seemingly chronic discomfort is obvious to all. Standing under the tree behind the Augusta National clubhouse the 29-time European Tour winner and World Golf Hall of Fame member’s back began to spasm.
“I can still get round as a golfer -- I can still hit the shots -- but physically I’m not really up to it any more,” he continued. “I had treatment before I went out today and I’m fine swinging the club. But the walking is killing me.
“I know I‘ve said this before. But this time it feels like the end. I want to enjoy playing but I just can’t. It’s too bad really. I’ve got a new driver and I’m ripping it off the tee. I even managed to knock it past Sandy a couple of times this morning. I’m playing well so it it is really disappointing. But I have to say goodbye sometime. If nothing changes physically, I’m done. I just can’t go on like this.”
Which is not to say Augusta has seen the last of the wee Welshman. And he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
“I’ll still come back every year and play in the par-3,” he said with a smile. “That works for me because you don’t have to play the next day.”