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Sanjay Nair
Saturday, Jul 12, 2014

Sports

'Woods still has eye of tiger'

The Straits Times | Sanjay Nair | Saturday, Jul 12, 2014

Ian Woosnam is hoping for success at the Senior Open Championship when it tees off at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club in Wales later this month, but first he will have a keen eye on the British Open next week.

An athlete's entire career revolves around the lonely but lofty pursuit of reaching the pinnacle of his or her sport.

But for the lucky few who do get to the top, there is little time to bask in their success.

Even golfer Tiger Woods, tennis player Serena Williams or sprinter Usain Bolt must continually fend off old foes and new pretenders bidding to snatch away their crowns.

So, when former world No. 1 golfer Ian Woosnam heard recent criticism that Woods is no longer driven to chase trophies and the top ranking, he could not help but chuckle.

Woods' decision not to play competitively in the fortnight leading up to next week's British Open drew a stinging rebuke from former coach Hank Haney, who said the American "doesn't care as much as he used to".

The golf phenomenon will make just his second competitive start at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake after a three-month lay-off from a back surgery.

But Woosnam - who himself takes weekly injections for a long-standing back problem - feels the break is more likely a precaution rather than an indication of Woods' competitive nature.

"Tiger only plays to win so questioning his mentality isn't quite right," the Welshman, in town at the invitation of Swiss private bank Julius Baer, told The Straits Times yesterday.

"He's been the world's top player for nearly 15 years now and Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus had it easier in terms of dealing with the media and pressure."

Dressed smartly in a polo shirt and a tailored pair of trousers, "Woosie" cut an affable and candid figure during a 20-minute interview in his suite at the W Hotel Sentosa.

He described the European Seniors Tour that he currently competes on as a chance to "see the lads, play some golf and have a couple of beers".

Back in his heyday, Woosnam was part of the "Big Five" with Spain's Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, from England, Germany's Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle from Scotland. All were born within 12 months of one another, each won Majors and helped to make Europe competitive in the Ryder Cup.

However, the 56-year-old bemoans today's young crop of "robotic" hitters.

"I like Jordan Spieth because he's one of the few who shows his emotions - it's nice to see someone get upset and bang the club a little bit," he said.

Woosnam said losing touch with his own fundamentals was the biggest regret of a career that included 29 European Tour titles and one Masters triumph.

"I changed my swing when I got to world No. 1 - the same swing that got me there in the first place," said the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame inductee, who held the top spot for 50 straight weeks in the early 1990s.

"The No. 1 ranking could have been mine for longer if I didn't get too technical."

He also rues two top-five finishes at the British Open and Woosnam tips Irishman Graeme McDowell to achieve what he could not at next week's Hoylake classic.

He said: "It's a tricky links course with thick rough so you've got to use driver and hit it straight.

"Graeme is in the right form to do just that and take the trophy back to Ireland."


This article was first published on July 10, 2014.
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