TOO many clubs in bag costs Woosnam lead, maybe more

Monday, July 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England (AP) _ When Ian Woosnam tossed the club from the second tee, his lead in the British Open went with it.

One moment he was leading the Open. The next, he was behind after calling a penalty on himself for having too many clubs in his bag.

Woosnam was in trouble, and so was his caddie.

``You're going to go ballistic,'' caddie Miles Byrne told him.

``At that moment, I felt like I had been kicked in the teeth,'' Woosnam said.

Worse yet, Woosnam was so flustered he bogeyed two of the next three holes, digging himself in even deeper.

``The first few holes I felt really lousy. I got plugged on the fourth and everything seemed to be going against me,'' he said. ``At that time, I felt like picking it up and walking in.''

Woosnam didn't, rallying for an eagle and three back-nine birdies that briefly put him back in the chase in front of a crowd that roared for him in sympathy.

But after signing for an even-par 71 that left him tied for third, four shots behind David Duval, he could only wonder what might have been after one of the worst gaffes in major championship history.

``I did not really get it out of my head all the way around,'' Woosnam said. ``I kept thinking if I hadn't had a two-shot penalty, I could have been leading or been joint leader. I never shook it off.''

Woosnam, whose appearance on the leaderboard at the Open was a surprise considering his career has been on a slide in recent years, said he had been experimenting with two drivers on the practice tee before the round.

``Miles thought someone else had taken the driver out of the bag and taken it to the locker room, but it hadn't happened,'' Woosnam said. ``There's two big head covers on there. He should have spotted it.''

He said it was Byrne's responsibility to count the number of clubs before going to the first tee.

``You usually start at one and finish with 14,'' he said. ``I always left it to the caddie. That's always been his job. It's the ultimate sin for a caddie.''

Byrne appeared just as flustered as his boss on the early holes, then ran off to the clubhouse when the round ended.

Surrounded by a group of reporters, he took the blame.

``You want me to stand here and make excuses?'' Byrne said. ``There is no excuse. The buck stops at me. My fault, two-shot penalty, end of story.''

Had Royal Lytham & St. Annes begun with a par-4 or par-5, where Woosnam needed his driver, he would probably have caught the mistake before teeing off and not been penalized.

Royal Lytham is one of the rare courses that begins with a par-3, though. Woosnam hit a 6-iron that stopped only inches short of what would have been an unprecedented hole-in-one on the first shot of the final round for an Open leader.

Woosnam, tied for the lead with Duval and two others at 6-under, tapped in the putt to take what he thought was the lead.

He was an unlikely leader at best, the 1991 Masters champion whose career slumped to the point where he talked two weeks ago of being disenchanted with the game and more eager to stay home in Wales or his home in Barbados.

He came to Royal Lytham with few expectations, then shot a 67 on Saturday that put him in a tie for the lead.

``I would have taken third or whatever I finished at the beginning of the week,'' he said.

Woosnam had plenty of support from the crowd, and not only because he's British. Hole after hole, they urged him on, and he responded with an eagle on the par-5 sixth and a pair of birdies that put him only two shots behind Duval at 7 under through 13 holes.

``I like a good fight, in all sorts of ways. It was a battle and I like a battle,'' he said.

Two bogeys coming in, though, took away any chance of a win. The crowd in the bleachers surrounding the 18th green still rose to its feet and gave him a huge and lingering ovation.

``They felt sorry for me. That helped me,'' Woosnam said. ``It was quite something coming up the 18th hole.''

Woosnam had only recently hired Byrne to replace his longtime caddie, mainly because he liked his ability to read greens.

He said he didn't plan to fire him.

``It is the biggest mistake he will make in his life,'' Woosnam said. ``He won't do it again. He's a good caddie. He will have a severe (talking to) when I get in, but I am not going to sack him.''