Golf: Woosnam puts smile back

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A Smiling Ian Woosnam is a joy to behold, since it usually means the Welshman is playing golf of a standard that is some way above average. Woosie was a bundle of happiness yesterday as he shot a second round 68 in the Volvo PGA Championship to top one of the most impressive leaderboards seen in Europe this year.

Though the appearance of the sun on a bank holiday weekend was pleasing in itself, a coolish breeze flitted between the West Course's magnificently tree-lined fairways and tugged at the flag sticks. Woosnam, 39, used all of his experience of playing here in such conditions to punch, draw and fade his way to six birdies after dropping two shots in the first three holes.

Woosnam was playing with Colin Montgomerie and the pair rose to the occasion. The Scot's second 69 made him one of the Welshman's closest pursuers at six under, three behind and a shot adrift of Nick Faldo - whose 67 equalled the day's best - and David Gilford. "I like playing with Monty, as long as he is not moaning," the Welshman jested.

Montgomerie concentrated on his partner's golf: "He is controlling the distance of his iron shots very well in the wind, holding one up into the wind, fading one, drawing one," he said. "That is what he does so well. And he is putting better than for a few weeks. He is the one to beat."

A putter cut down to 32 inches, which has actually got him standing more upright, has given Woosnam the confidence on the greens he has been lacking all year. At times the disparity between the quality of his long game and his putting has driven him to distraction. Not here. If the highlight of his day was a punched eight-iron to twelve inches at the 16th, the lowlight came at the next.

Woosnam's drive caught the first heavy patch of rough on the right, from where he could only chop out 80 yards with a nine-iron. That left a two- iron to the green and a chip and a putt were needed to save par. "I was buried in the rough, while you could hit it further right and have a perfect lie," he said. "It's too severe."

Otherwise, the '88 PGA champion was upbeat: "My back is better and I am enjoying playing at the moment. I have high expectations of how I want to play and if I cannot play like that I do not enjoy it."

Montgomerie, not at the same peak as when blitzing The Buckinghamshire in the Andersen Consulting World Championship earlier this week, appreciated the luck that contributed to three birdies at the 12th, 13th and 14th. First his tee-shot at the 12th bounced off a tree root back on to the fairway, then he chipped in at the next two.

At the 14th, from behind the green, his pitch took a hard bounce and was saved from descending the front edge by the flagstick getting in the way. "Woosie didn't say much when that happened," he said.

Faldo's key moment was also a chip in, this time at the 13th. "I thought you might do that," his caddie Fanny Sunesson told him. "I didn't," Faldo replied. "It was a really hard shot. It was almost a two-shot swing," he said.

The Englishman has been playing what he called his "home patch" for 23 years and the familiarity has helped him regain some confidence after missing the cut at the US Masters. "I'm pleased I've built two good rounds," he said. "I've got a great opportunity now. I'm still a little way off my best, but it's heading in the right direction."

Conditions had hardly eased by the afternoon since Faldo's playing partners, Bernhard Langer and Ernie Els, took circumnavigations of 75 and 71 respectively. Gilford's quiet demeanour belied a raging round of five bogeys and seven birdies, while the overnight leaders, Eamonn Darcy, 75, and Darren Clarke, on 74 after four bogeys in his first six holes were making backwards progress.

Seve Ballesteros, however, never made it to the first tee at all. He woke with back spasms and despite having an injection, he could only hit a few pitch shots on the range and could not bend properly over his putter. After a first round 76, he would have been battling to save missing his seventh cut of the season. Not that he has anything on Steven Richardson, who, on seven over, missed his 13th cut in 13 events this year.