Golf: Woosnam flies alone as Baker has a rest

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HAD HE played his cards right Peter Baker could have flown from the Midlands today to Hamburg for the Honda Open with his friend and rival Ian Woosnam. Baker usually hitches a lift on Woosnam's private jet and repays the favour by habitually losing money to the Welshman whenever they play in a 'friendly' match.

On the evidence of his performance in the Dunhill British Masters last Sunday, Baker would probably fleece Woosnam. In one of the great finishing rounds, he set a course record of 63 and a scoring record of 22 under par. After winning at Woburn, Baker withdrew from the championship in Hamburg, but, according to Woosnam, he did not play his cards right.

'He should have kept playing,' Woosnam said. 'When you're hot you're hot and he should have been thinking of winning two or three tournaments in a row. He is now capable of going all the way. He has a lovely swing, smooth and crisp. He is more mature the second time round.'

The first time Baker made an impression was in the Benson and Hedges International at Fulford five years ago when, aged 20, he scored an eagle on the 18th twice on the final day, first to get into a play-off with Nick Faldo and then to record his first victory on the European Tour.

But Baker, a Shropshire lad who lives in Wolverhampton, then gave the impression of being a sheep in wolves' clothing. He had an excellent amateur career and built a reputation for attacking play. When the mood, or inspiration, took him he was fearless and this approach won the plaudits of the vanquished Faldo at Fulford.

'He felt the pressures,' Woosnam said, 'and changed his swing. I don't know why, because when you win with one swing you can win with it again. I remember him saying to me that he had a good chance of the Ryder Cup team four years ago. He put pressure on himself and it backfired. He never felt he was long enough off the tee, but now he's a much better driver and long-iron player. If he made the Ryder Cup this year, he'd probably do well. He's a good match player and he makes a lot of birdies.'

Woosnam, who did not play at Woburn (the appearence money went to Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Jose-Maria Olazabal), made an appearance yesterday at the Forest of Arden Golf and Country Club. It is the venue for the Murphy's English Open in August, the penultimate event that counts towards European Ryder Cup points, and the sponsors are spending pounds 1m on upgrading the course.

Last summer, Woosnam, in common with most leading players, missed the English Open at The Belfry, which this year hosts the Ryder Cup. Murphy's did not pay appearance money then, but this time they have splashed out a sum not unadjacent to pounds 50,000 to ensure Woosnam's presence at the Forest of Arden. Why Woosie, short and tubby? Why the Forest of Arden, long and narrow? In the first case Murphy's, who produce an Irish stout, identify with Woosnam. He is apparently a player to whom the man in the pub can relate. And the Forest of Arden is owned by Whitbread which brews Murphy's.

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