Golf: Woosnam loses the thread: Guy Hodgson sees the former No 1's loss of form wreck his Open attempt yet again

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AS Ian Woosnam left Royal St George's yesterday a voice piped up: 'Never mind Woosie. There's always next year.' It was delivered and accepted as encouragement, yet the Welshman could divine the anxiety implicit in the line.

'They always say that,' he said with a self-mocking smile, 'but the years are running out for me.' With that he departed, another major lost and another opportunity squandered.

You only get so many chances in golf and Woosnam's are dwindling. Not many people win majors in their forties and he is 35. His best finish in an Open Championship came seven years ago at Turnberry and although he has not missed a cut since 1984, he has yet to challenge with real conviction for the trophy he most wants.

His very start time was an indictment of his previous work this week. Begin your third round at 8.55am and your previous two rounds have been mightily mediocre, but on a links course, with the possibility, no matter how remote, of foul conditions for the leaders late in the day, there is always a glimmer.

With Woosnam that hope lived and died with the putter. His golf diet at Sandwich has been one of good approaches and hopeless finishing and on Friday, when he finally found the hole, he had turned to the crowd and shouted: 'Even a blind pig finds an acorn sometimes.' Yesterday he needed some early successes on the green to bolster him for a good score.

'A few good putts and I could be among them,' he said but that prospect diminished with the dew still on the ground. On the second, a 376-yard par-four dog-leg left, he hit an immaculate chip to three and a half feet and the dawn gallery braced itself to roar their man on his way. Woosnam anxiously hovered over his ball and then sent it past its target.

His rage was such he could not bring himself to knock the ball in. Instead he circled it, glaring while suppressing the scream that was probably bursting to get out of his 5ft 4in frame. Little Woosie was a little woozy with anger and it was a full 20 seconds before he recovered and removed what was clearly offending his senses from his sight.

That was a cameo of the outward half. He had three opportunities from within nine feet and missed them all and even his birdie at the par-five seventh required a putt of 10 feet to complete after his first had run away past the hole.

'It's not the putter, it's the man behind it,' he said, underlining the problem that has dragged the Masters champion of 1991 and the former world No 1 to 19th place in the European Ryder Cup rankings and which will ensure he will need the nod of the Cup captain, Bernard Gallacher, unless he improves dramatically over the next six weeks. At the start of the championship he was using a club weighted down with lead at the base but, true to a struggler's type, a different blade was in the bag yesterday.

Coming back, it was his irons that dragged him down, hooking into parts of the course only a lover of wildlife would choose to visit. By the 14th the grim concern for his work had gone and he was joking to the crowd, horse-shoeing his ball in the far left rough.

Had his caddie been drinking the night before, a spectator asked when Woosnam was incredulous about the club selection. 'Probably,' he replied and then shouted at his bagman: 'No wonder your nickname is Wobbly.'

It was Woosnam who wobbled down the closing holes, however, dropping a shot on the 16th when he found a bunker on the left and another on the 18th after his approach comprehensively missed the green and his chip left him in two-putt land. 'It was the worst round I've had in a long, long time,' he said. 'In fact 72 (two over) is a good score considering how bad I was.'

Next year, amid the gloom yesterday, could not come soon enough.