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The Masters' Littlest Master Eyes Return

Ian Woosnam flips through his yardage book at arm’s length. Then, after a few seconds, he holds it closer. And then even closer.

“I can’t read the thing,” he tells his South African caddie on The Links at Fancourt during the European Senior Tour’s first foray into Africa with the Berenberg Bank Masters last week.

To the Welshman’s credit, his inability to read the yardage book had less to do with his 52 years of age and a place on the European Senior Tour than an eye infection he was struggling to shake.

But Woosnam is obviously keenly aware of the march of time, and nothing reminds him more of this than The Masters. This year marks 19 years since Woosnam took a pair of red plaid pants and mixed it with a green jacket amidst a golden period for British golf at Augusta National.

Sandy Lyle began this process in 1988. Nick Faldo carried it further with his triumphs in 1989 and 1990, and Woosnam completed it with an eight-foot putt on the 18th in 1991.

But for all the ability of the Masters to glorify its past champions and turn most of them all misty-eyed, it also reminds them of how the fairways there are always green and the flowers always in bloom, while they return every year slightly older, with a few more wrinkles, and eye infections that take that much longer to disappear.

“Well, I’m looking forward to it,” Woosnam says of his return there this year. “This one will be exciting, with Tiger coming back. It’s great that they’ve got TV on the first nine as well so that everybody gets a good look at all 18 holes. Everybody knows Augusta and this will make it even more exciting.”

But his next comment is like the shift from a 20-foot birdie putt to win a tournament rushing past the hole, and then suddenly facing the reality of an eight-foot putt back to now avoid losing it.

“I hope it hasn’t been raining too much,” he says. “If it’s playing really long, it’s very difficult.”

When Woosnam won at Augusta in 1991, it was playing to a length of 6,905 yards. Nowadays, it’s out to 7,445 yards. She gets younger and stronger, while her past champions get older and weaker.

“I just want to make the cut, really,” says Woosnam. “If it’s running a little, I have a chance.”

But look at Lyle, someone in the conversation adds. Lyle finished tied 20th in last year’s Masters, at the age of 51.

“No, no, no. Sandy hits it miles past me,” Woosnam responds.

But you’re playing well. You won the European Senior Tour Order of Merit in your rookie season in 2008. Tom Watson showed how competitive senior golf has become when he stole the show at the Open Championship last year.

Watson does bring back a Masters memory for Woosnam. He, Jose-Maria Olazabal and Watson were tied for the lead playing the 18th. Olazabal bogeyed the last to limp out of contention, Watson made double-bogey to take himself out of it, and Woosnam scrambled for par and the title.

And the 2001 Open Championship at Lytham turned back the clock somewhat as Woosnam was in contention on the final day. That was before caddie Miles Byrne failed to spot a second driver in the bag, which meant they had 15 clubs instead of the 14 allowed, resulting in a two-stroke penalty.

“Yes, I’m playing well,” he says, coming back to the present. “But I’m not putting well enough.” Not as well as that decision to putt from off the green rather than chip at Augusta in 1991, leaving him that eight-footer for his only major triumph.

So why on earth are you going back then? To be honest, I didn’t ask him that question.

And then it comes.

“I’m getting to that age now where I’m wondering how many more times I’m going to play there.”

A former world No. 1. Twenty-eight European Tour titles. One PGA Tour title. A successful Ryder Cup captaincy. One major.

And now, three European Senior Tour titles.

As a partner with his good friend D.J. Russell in RAW golf course design, Woosnam appears to be embracing this new phase of his life. He’s said to still get a glint in his eye when talk turns to another good friend, Sir Ian Botham, a man as equally attuned to enjoying the pleasures of life.

And for now, Woosnam is happy to enjoy the luxury of being able to look back every April.

But he knows it’s only for as long as Augusta allows.


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