Dramatic drive on 18 clinches Woosnam's title

John Steadman

April 15, 1991|By John Steadman

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Before Ian Woosnam drew an 8-iron for the climactic shot on the 72nd and final hole of the Masters Tournament, he became a combination traffic director, surveyor and executioner. He was about to spring a trap on those in pursuit that would effectively put them out of their misery.

Woosnam was shooting to a green he couldn't see, through a narrow avenue of cleared spectators. The object of his affection, the flag stick, was 140 yards away. His drive on the closing hole was far to the left, hit in the general direction of where he wanted to be but, no, not quite that far.

"I hooked it more than I wanted," he said. "Actually, I had never been that far off the fairway at that hole." On some courses it would have been out of bounds, but Augusta National has a way of forgiving some errant shots. Here the "rough" is smoother than most of the front lawns in finer neighborhoods.

Woosnam, the pocket-sized Welshman who at 5 feet 4 1/2 is only 4 1/2 inches taller than Rocco Mediate's elongated putter, considered the situation that confronted him. He had to go all uphill, stay right of the press tower and land over a high ridge.

This was the dramatic and decisive moment. The air was charged. Don't strike a match because the ammunition dump at Fort Gordon, outside Augusta, might explode with a roar.

Meanwhile, Woosnam, poised and calculating, was the consummate professional. He executed the precise shot that had to be made.

First, he dried his hands on a towel, and then grounded the club with an authoritative, self-assured address. The shoulder-turn followed with a modest but controlled backswing. His strong hips and legs brought the iron into a descending blow that sent the ball accelerating on a high yet direct flight plan.

The trajectory made it appear as a speck in the declining daylight. The ball landed just short of the green. Since his most TC persistent pursuer all day had been Tom Watson, who was on the other side of the fairway and in trouble inside the tree line, Woosnam continued to control his own destiny.

He got down in two putts to clinch victory with an even-par 72, which turned out to be a shot better than Jose Maria Olazabal, the slightly built Spaniard, and two ahead of Watson and three other Americans tied for third, Steve Pate, Ben Crenshaw and Lanny Wadkins.

At first it appeared another Masters playoff was in the making. But then Olazabal went 1-over-par and Watson double-bogeyed the same hole that Woosnam was to par the hard way, via the 8-iron up the slope and safely over the heads of the packed gallery.

When he had to pull the trigger on the approach that won it for him, Woosnam was able to produce valiantly. But this was not exactly a classic performance of shot-making.

He drove the ball off line on the two incoming par-5 holes -- hooking it badly to the left on the 13th, which led to a double-bogey, and on the 15th he was so far right it appeared he might need to hail a taxi to get back into play. Instead, he nailed a 4-iron to the green and two-putted for a pleasing birdie.

Meanwhile, Watson, who had hit a massive drive, responded with an eagle and it meant they were both tied at 12-under. They matched par on 16 and 17 and were even going to the concluding fairway.

"I was thinking driver but hit a 3-wood," said Watson. That's how he played the 405-yard hole in the three earlier rounds. "I just shoved it to the right in the trees."

The problem was compounded when he put a 3-iron into the green-side bunker, after failing to carry the ball 185 yards to the flag. This provided Woosnam the opportunity he needed.

Woosnam is especially strong in the arms and legs, developed by working on his father's farm as a boy, baling hay. As a youngster he went off to camp and won the boxing championship two summers in a row.

The next year, none of his fellow campers wanted any part of getting in the ring with Woosnam. So the counselor decided to fight him. Quickly, Woosnam tagged his older opponent, putting him down and out.

He didn't exactly knock Watson cold with one punch; it was more a case of firing away and staying close until until he could deliver the 8-iron. Watson, who had kept the heat on Woosnam all afternoon, was perturbed that some fans in the gathering of 40,000 were tossing innuendoes at his foreign foe.

"I heard the comment that this was Augusta, the Masters, not a links course, and that at Amen Corner [the 11th, 12th and 13th holes] he would crack," Watson said later. Watson didn't think such remarks were in keeping with the tradition of the Masters or the kind of sportsmanship golf is supposed to represent.

But Watson told Woosnam a story of what Don January used to do on the tour when he heard rude observations from the crowd. January would go over to the source of the noise, tip his cap and say, "Thank you very much."

Woosnam said he took the cue and when it happened again, "I told the man, 'Well thank you very much.' " He agreed the crowd's insults made for an extra dimension of difficulty, but followed up by adding, "Don't make too big a thing of it; please don't."

At one point, the new ruler of the Masters was asked what he was thinking as he held himself together and fought off Watson. "I was just hoping this day would soon be over with and I'd know the result."

Ian Woosnam didn't let the scoreboard or the circumstances play tricks with his mind. He truly displayed the Masters touch.

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