Golf: Woosnam's heady brew of birdies: World Match Play Championship

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The Independent Online
A COUPLE of records here yesterday, one made by Ian Woosnam with the brilliance of his play, and the other by Greg Norman, who retired hurt. In the Toyota World Match Play Championship, Woosnam is becoming a pain in the neck to his opponents and does not need his ego massaged. Norman has a pain in the neck for which he was in urgent need of a masseuse.

Woosnam eased into the semi- finals with an 8 and 7 victory over Jose-Maria Olazabal in a match which finished in a blaze of low scoring. Woosnam, the only Briton to win this title twice, became the only player in the championship to make seven birdies in a row. Norman's withdrawal, in the quarter-final against Nick Price, was the first in the 29-year history of the event. One a long player, the other a compact disc.

Woosnam continues to contradict almost every word he has uttered this week. Seeded outside the top four and therefore forced to play in the first round, he said he had been inconsistent throughout the season and was now even more inconsistent. Then he went out and put Norio Suzuki away

8 and 6. 'I didn't play great,' Woosnam said. 'I'm not in the groove.' He is not even consistent in being inconsistent.

Yesterday morning he went round in 67 to Olazabal's 74 and went into lunch six holes up. Olazabal, defeated 3 and 2 by Woosnam in the same stage of this championship in 1989, began to harbour thoughts of a recovery when he won the 19th, the 21st and the 22nd. He also looked like winning the 23rd when he holed from 20 feet for a two but Woosnam also got a two, getting down from 18 feet.

It was the beginning of Woosnam's record-breaking sequence. He followed it with a three at the 24th where he hit a wedge to five feet; a three at the 25th where he again made his approach with a wedge and holed out from 12 feet; a three at the 26th where he sank a putt from 28 feet and a three at the 27th, holing out from 12 feet. He went out in 31, Olazabal in 32, at which point the Welshman was in fizzy drinks mode at seven up. He had his sixth birdie in a row at the next and his seventh the hole after that. Seven holes from home, Olazabal had reached the end of the Burma Road. He dropped to his knees in mock submission.

Woosnam's golf mocked the course. In 59 holes from day one he has scored 23 birdies and an eagle. He has altered the angle of the blade on his putter, altered his grip and altered his pre-match speech. 'I feel I could beat anybody,' he said. 'I had one of my streaks.' Olazabal said: 'Nobody could have shot better than Woosie. He's in the right mood.'

In the first semi-final today Woosnam plays the New Yorker Jeff Sluman, who put out the five- times champion Seve Ballesteros by two holes. 'I played poorly,' Ballesteros said. He was on the practice putting green at 7 am, so early the ground staff had to steer their mowers around him. Ballesteros did not hole a decent putt until the 10th, by which time he was three down. At lunch he was all square but Sluman delivered a shocking blow at the 33rd where he chipped in from 85 feet for a three. That regained him the lead and they shook hands at the last, where Sluman was in the luxurious position of not having to putt.

In the second semi-final, Price, who probably set another record by guaranteeing himself a minimum of pounds 40,000 for five holes of play, meets Nick Faldo. Last year the Zimbabwean beat the Englishman 5 and 3 in the semi-finals. Twelve months on, Faldo is the world No 1 and at times he played like it in dismissing Mark O'Meara 5 and 3.

About the only moment of discomfort for Faldo, who came in in the morning in 33 and went out in the afternoon in the same score, was that he was asked to move his Mercedes from the players' personal parking bays. They are reserved for the shiny, chauffeur- driven black models laid on by Toyota.

Norman had a pain in the neck in his first-round match against Brad Faxon. He put it down to an alien pillow or an alien in the pillow. To make matters worse, a message about a massage went missing during his mission.

He had treatment overnight and when he woke up yesterday he felt worse. 'It felt awful on the driving range but I wanted to give it a go. I knew over the first few holes that it was not going to improve.'

He went one up against Price after the second hole but by the fifth was two down. Norman had trouble hitting his tee shot at the fifth and when he failed to move his ball no more than 200 yards off the tee at the sixth, he conceded.

TODAY'S TEE-OFF TIMES: 8.45am and 1.15pm J Sluman (US) v I Woosnam (Wal); 9.0 and 1.30 N Price (Zim) v N Faldo (Eng).

(Photograph omitted)