Woosnam wonders whether this could be his week at Rockliffe Hall

TEE OFF: Ian Woosnam, centre, shares a joke with team mates at the Pro-Am tournament at Rockliffe Hall. From left Kevin Brown, Stuart Grindlay and caddy Scott Barnes

PRACTICE SHOT: Ian Woosnam practices before playing in the Pro-Am tournament at Rockliffe Hall

First published in Sport
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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

ON the face of it the English Senior Open provides a platform for sports fans from across the region to head for Rockliffe Hall to get a glimpse of golfers who, for decades, have made a career out of hitting the finest greens and lushest fairways around the world.

For all of those taking part there is much more to it than that. An appearance in County Durham over this Bank Holiday weekend is the latest instalment of the European Senior Tour.

While it would be easy for the outsider to surmise that a bunch of over-50s golfers are out having a bit of fun as they hurtle towards retirement, it does not take too long in the company of these sportsmen to realise there is much more to it than that.

Take Ian Woosnam. As he sat in the clubhouse before yesterday’s Pro-Am to preview the return of the event to County Durham, it became clear how much it will hurt him if he has under-performed when he walks off the course this afternoon at the end of his first round.

This is Ian Woosnam, the former US Masters champion. Since winning the Swiss Open in 1982 to claim his maiden European Tour triumph, he went on to win 47 worldwide tournaments before stepping up to the Senior ranks, including pulling on the coveted Green Jacket in 1991.

A renowned huge-hitter despite standing at just 5ft 4in tall, Woosnam was one of the big five - along with Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle - who dominated the sport during the 80s and 90s. He is still recognised as winning more pro tournaments than any other British golfer.

But the Welshman is 56, so given his achievements he could be forgiven for taking an outing or two on the Senior Tour lightly. Not so. Just like the rest of the 72-man field, he intends to impress as soon as he heads on to the first tee at 9.40am today.

“The trouble is, it is difficult to give up what you have been doing all of your life,” said Woosnam, relaxing and displaying all of his famous charm.

“Maybe we should all be just having a laugh out there, but once you get on to the golf course you just can’t do that. I can’t. It’s that winning mentality. It’s upsetting when I can’t perform how I used to play. It’s annoying. But you keep trying. There is a time, if I don’t improve, then I will say that’s it. I have that winning attitude.”

Such is the seriousness of his preparations, Woosnam went for physio before his only practice round. He has put the work in on the driving range too, and this will be his fifth outing of the year, including finishing tied 63rd at the US Masters in April.

Last weekend he claimed a credible tied 19th at the SSE Scottish Senior Open and he finished in the same position at the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open last month. Sandwiched in between was a tied 75th spot at the Senior Open Championship.

Can he claim a fourth Senior Tour win this weekend? If he does, that would represent his first since the Berenberg Bank Masters three years ago. He said: “Last week I shot 80 on the final day and I played OK. I just hit a few bad shots.

“I am back to the short putter and it’s not quite working at the moment and if it is not working in wind like that the confidence goes downhill. I am hoping the wind doesn’t pick up too much here or that won’t suit my putter.

“The trouble is, in the tournaments we play, I need to play a lot of golf to hit my best and I’m not playing enough to play really well. We are starting now but our Tour is down to about four months really, so I haven’t played for about eight months. What I am trying to say is if I put eight months practice into trying to play for four months it is not right for me.”

Woosnam arrived at Rockliffe Hall on Wednesday night and, having not played last October when the English Senior Open paid its first visit to Hurworth, he decided to play this time after hearing glowing praise and comments from other players.

Rockliffe has previously been mentioned as a potential host of a Ryder Cup in the future and Woosnam, a former Team Europe captain, hopes to see the United States struggle once more in September when the battle recommences at Gleneagles.

“The European guys are getting stronger and stronger,” said Woosnam, who led Europe to a record-equalling win at the K-Club in 2006. “The Americans are going to be at the end of their FedEx thing, so they will be tired. I can’t see the weather being great up in Scotland for them either. It should be all in our favour.”

First and foremost, Woosnam has performing at Rockliffe Hall to think about and, remember, it’s not just the taking part that counts.

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