Ian Woosnam may not be in the Open Championship field this week at Royal Lytham & St Annes, but the Welshman knows what it takes to contend here, as he held a share of the third round at Lytham in the 2001 Open, before a two-shot penalty for carrying 15 clubs derailed his challenge in the fourth round.
“Luke Donald is a good bet for me,” proffers Woosnam, “but if it is windy, here is a name out of the blue: Paul Lawrie. He is playing well this year, he loves the wind, he loves links golf and he putts really well on links courses. That is the secret to competing in Majors – you have got to putt well. Lawrie is a good outside bet.”
He also knows how to win the Open, as Lawrie remains the last Scot to have won the Claret Jug, at Carnoustie in 1999.
“To know the course really well you need to play it with the wind coming from all different directions too,” adds Woosnam, 54. “You could play the par-three first hole downwind in practice, and then not know what club to use in the tournament if the wind changes.”
Royal Lytham stands out as an Open golf course by harboring more bunkers than any other Open course, but at only 7,086 yards from the championship tees, it is a relatively short course by Majors standards, and in fair conditions it is need of the extra protection.
“Lytham is one of the toughest Open golf courses because there are so many damn bunkers – 206 of them,” says Woosnam, a Major winner himself at the 1991 Masters.
“You need to plot your way around Lytham – you can’t force a score out of the course. You have got to play into the right positions. It is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle: you need to get yourself into the right positions to get the next piece to fit. My best rounds at Lytham have been when I have played conservative golf. When I have tried to chase it here I have got myself into trouble.”
The memories of the 2001 Open are bittersweet for Woosnam. At the age of 43 he worked his way into the lead here and enjoyed rapturous support from the Lytham galleries, yet the two-shot penalty remains the greatest golfing disaster of his career.
“I get reminders about that 15th club all the time – it’s happened thousands of times,” admits Woosnam. “It has got to be expected to an extent, but it is like someone turning around and saying to you, ‘Your dad’s just died,’ time and again. How would you feel if that kept on happening? Every time someone mentions it, it hurts.
“In the second round at Augusta this year, I got asked about it three times by the time I had reached the sixth tee. By that time I had heard enough and I got one of the security guys to take the guy away.
“They don’t need to say it. People think it’s funny but it’s not.”
Then Woosnam pauses for a moment.
“Might I have become Open champion if the 15th club had not happened? I might have been, but you know, ‘if’ is a big word.”
Story courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, patron of the 2012 Open Championship