Woosnam shows the drive of a master Outlasts Olazabal, Watson to win first major title

April 15, 1991|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,Sun Staff Correspondent

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Masters has been won in dozens of places on the back nine of the Augusta National course, but never until yesterday had it been won on a driving range. Yes, that is the place from where Ian Woosnam hit the shot that made the 55th Masters his, not Tom Watson's or Jose-Maria Olazabal's: a driving range.

It is a long strip of grass that runs along the left side the 18th fairway, and members of the club use it to practice their drives during the other 51 weeks of the year. Woosnam aimed his drive there, hit a blind approach to the green and made a par that gave him a one-stroke victory over Olazabal.

It was the first major tournament championship for Woosnam, a 33-year-old Welshman, and makes it four years in a row that a golfer from the United Kingdom has won the Masters. Nick Faldo won it in 1989 and 1990, Sandy Lyle the year before that. Woosnam's 11-under-par total of 277 was the lowest in seven years.

Woosnam, Watson and Olazabal were tied at 11-under going into the 72nd hole. Olazabal, playing in the group ahead, hit his drive into a fairway bunker and made bogey. Watson hit his drive into the trees to right of the fairway and wound up making double-bogey. Woosnam won the tournament with a par, but what a unique par it was.

Woosnam is among the longest hitters in the game, and chose to gamble by hitting his drive far to the left of the fairway -- and the bunker into which Olazabal hit. His drive flew 300 yards, far over and to the left of the bunker, even to the left of the gallery surrounding the fairway.

"Avoiding the trouble, that's what it is," Woosnam said. "I saw Greg Norman play the hole like that once, and it looked like a good idea to me. You have to be long, but the wind was at my back and it was the right time to try it."

Watson did not think it all so radical.

"There's nothing wrong with playing the hole that way," he said, "but you do have to hit it long. He did. Then you have a blind shot to the green, but that's not necessarily a problem."

What ensued was downright comical, with Woosnam, his caddy and several tournament marshals trying to herd the fans out of the way so Woosnam could mark off the distance of the shot. It took about five minutes to clear everyone out of the way. The distance was 140 yards to the flag. Woosnam hit an 8-iron to the green's left fringe, about 45 feet from the hole.

He chipped to within eight feet and watched as Watson's par putt slid by the hole. Knowing he would win the tournament if he sank the putt, Woosnam lined it up and hit a perfect putt, the ball dropping squarely into the cup. He began raising his arms in triumph before the ball disappeared.

"I knew it was in when it was still three feet out," he said. "You spend a lot of time on the putting green, and I told myself this was the time, if ever, to do everything right and bring the putter back and take a good stroke and move through the ball."

He is only the second third-round leader in the last nine years to hold his lead through Sunday, but he had to endure a terrific

fight to do so. Nine golfers finished within three shots of the lead, and several made major runs. Watson double-bogeyed No. 12, but rebounded with two eagles. Woosnam lost his lead briefly after Olazabal birdied No. 15, but then also birdied 15.

"It was a very, very tough day," Woosnam said. "It felt like we were out there for 10 hours. The pressure was just tremendous. I was mostly just wishing the day would be over. I wanted to know the result."

Olazabal actually shot the best Sunday round of the leaders, a 70, and had made up three strokes on the back nine after bogeying Nos. 8-10 to fall back. But his driver was erratic throughout the tournament, and it failed him at the most important time, on the 18th tee.

"I hit a driver, which I had been hitting there all week," he said, "and I wanted to put the ball just to the right of the trap, but it didn't fade. It is hard to explain how I feel right now. I am happy because I played so well, but I'm disappointed with that ending. I'd love to hit that tee shot again."

Woosnam won on a day when he was heckled by fans. Some cheered when he hit a ball in the creek on the 13th. A couple yelled "U.S.A." when he hit on the 16th tee. One fan at the 14th tee yelled that "this was not a links course" such as they have in England and Scotland, inferring that Woosnam should not win.

Watson, his adversary and playing partner, helped calm down Woosnam on the 14th tee, telling him a story about how old pro Don January used to deal with hecklers. "Tom told me he'd just tip his cap and say, 'Thank you very much,' " Woosnam said. "So on the 14th I hit my drive down the middle, turned to the guy and said, 'Thank you very much.' It was OK. I play better when I get mad."

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