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Fight to the Finish
John Garrity
April 22, 1991
Feisty little Ian Woosnam outlasted a wave of challengers and won over hostile Masters gallery
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April 22, 1991

Fight To The Finish

Feisty little Ian Woosnam outlasted a wave of challengers and won over hostile Masters gallery

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Those were not students of psychology down in Amen Corner on Sunday, those who cheered when Ian Woosnam hooked his drive on the 13th hole into Rae's Creek. At 5'4½", Woosnam is short, not deaf. He heard the cheers, and he knew what they meant.

The cheers were a rude way of saying, Enough, already. Enough of European golfers winning the Masters. Please, no more Scots, Englishmen, Spaniards or Germans; no more Sandys, Nicks, Seves or Bernhards. And especially—nothing personal, mind you—no little Welshmen answering to "Woosie."

"That was a bit disappointing," said Woosnam on Sunday evening, his new green jacket clashing nicely with the red tartan trousers he had worn into the Georgia woods. "Bad sportsmanship. But never mind, that's life; let's get on with it."

Maybe that's what Woosnam was thinking as he stared down at his ball, dimly visible in the murky water off the 13th fairway. Maybe he wasn't still bristling over another taste of American jingoism back at the 10th hole, where spectators had rooted for his ball to roll off the green and down a hill, which it had done. Perhaps, as he dropped a new ball on 13, he was feeling magnanimous. More likely, though, he was thinking dark, bloody thoughts.

Woosnam would bite your shins in a pub brawl if you crossed him, but at 33 he has learned to channel his feistiness. He no longer breaks clubs over his knee or gets booked for racing his Porsche through the Shropshire night at more than 120 mph. "The more angry I get, the better I play," he said on more than one occasion last week.

Come to think of it, the 1991 Masters was a pub brawl, and as with most good melees, you couldn't tell much about the fight by who was last out the door. Three men came to the 72nd hole tied for the lead at 11 under par: Woosnam, winner of the USF&G Classic in New Orleans three weeks earlier and a 17-time winner on the European tour; 41-year-old Tom Watson, the people's choice down the stretch; and young Spanish star José-María Olazábal, the second-leading money-winner on the European tour this season.

By then, however, all three seemed spent. They had fought off challenges by guys who seemed to come out of nowhere—Ben Crenshaw, Andrew Magee, Jodie Mudd, Steve Pate—and one man, Lanny Wadkins, who was there among the leaders all along. They also had battled the brain-numbing delays of Masters play. "You never can get a rhythm on this golf course," said Watson, citing his 25-minute wait for a four-group pileup on 13. "It felt like 10 hours out there," said Woosnam.

No one left more of himself on the course than Watson, who had not won since the 1987 Nabisco Championships. Seemingly out of contention after dunking his tee shot in the water on the par-3 12th, Watson wrought pandemonium in the pines by eagling the 13th and 15th holes—a feat rivaling Gene Sarazen's final-round double eagle at 15 in 1935. His first eagle produced a three-shot swing with the front-running Woosnam, who after taking his drop on 13 had laid up and taken bogey. The eagle at 15—following a brilliant five-iron to within six feet of the pin—gave Watson a share of the lead with Woosnam, who two-putted for a birdie, and Olazábal.

Like Woosnam, Olazábal needed only to win his first major to secure his reputation, which has rapidly been established with a total of seven wins worldwide in 1990 and '91, including a 12-stroke victory at last summer's World Series of Golf in Akron. "I would be very surprised if he does not pull this out," said Seve Ballesteros of his countryman as the contenders made the turn on Sunday. "He is 25, but he is 35 in maturity."

Olazábal was off his game on Sunday and plodded along at a pace that probably crippled the hopes of the fast-moving Wadkins, his playing partner. Olazábal missed fairways consistently and bogeyed three straight holes—8, 9 and 10—to fall four strokes off the pace, but he birdied 13, 14 and 15 and seized the lead briefly at 11 under. Proving what? "That I'm able to come back," said the man who would be Ballesteros.

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