Cameo appearances frustrate Woosnam's Ryder Cup plans

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The Independent Online

Ian Woosnam has always been one of the select golfing few - only Welshman to win a major and all that - and today he joins the élite of the veteran section when he competes in his 500th European Tour event here at the BMW Championship.

Pity then, that the directors of the fairways regard Woosnam as little more than an extra nowadays, fit for the occasional walk-on role - and, if he must, a few lines - while the real stars are still in make-up. Today, Woosnam partners Paul Lawrie and Brian Davis, both well-known in golfing households but hardly in the Luke Donald and Colin Montgomerie category of crowd-pullers.

Now, as a 48-year-old with a bad back whose best days are not so much behind him as lapping him, this might seem fair enough. But Woosnam believes that a certain position he is currently holding entitles him to receive a plum, rather than a bum draw in Europe's so-called "flagship event".

"I just presumed as Ryder Cup captain that the Tour would pair me with certain players so I could have a look at them," he said. "But I've found it very strange. Last week I was playing with two Argentinians and I was hoping this week was going to be different. I have it in my mind to ask [to be drawn with potential Ryder Cup players] but I just haven't had time."

When he does eventually get around to it - preferably before 22 September - the officials may very well tell Woosnam that their decidedly odd treatment of a golfer who can still woo the galleries was merely to spare him. After all, a number of the professionals who look like being among his 12 hungry men at the K Club in four months' time make painful viewing at the moment.

There are the injured - Paul McGinley, David Howell - the out of form - Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson - and the absolute hacker - Colin Montgomerie. And that is not all, because as Woosnam peers down this prestigious entry list and spots the names of a couple of 22-carat top-tenners in Ernie Els and Adam Scott, he cannot fail to notice his highest ranked player, Sergio Garcia, has not even bothered to come over - again.

"Sergio hasn't played here for a long time and we all know why," Woosnam said. "He has other issues, but it does seem very strange. It would be nice to see him at the Tour's biggest event."

Those "issues" were later given colourful expression by Donald, who was more open than ever in detailing why his great friend has delivered yet another snub to Wentworth. "I believe the main reason why he doesn't play much at this tournament or England in general is the tax rule," said the world No 10, who is, himself making a rare outing on "home" soil this week.

"I believe that if he plays a certain number of days or weeks, the whole Andre Agassi scandal thing affects him. I asked him recently, 'Are you going to come over to play?' and he said he would like to, but the taxmen would catch up with him and financially it wouldn't be worth it."

Last week, Agassi lost a legal battle to avoid paying United Kingdom income tax on endorsement deals. The House of Lords' ruling will "only" hit the American tennis player for £28,000, but the precedent has had other sporting superstars running scared. If it was mighty difficult to entice the likes of Garcia, Phil Mickelson and, of course, Tiger Woods to these parts before, then now it is doubly so. Not even Els's new West Course layout could lure them.

It was winning the plaudits here yesterday, though, not least from Montgomerie who has been refreshingly honest about his dire run of results. "To call my form indifferent would be an understatement," said the Scot, who has missed seven out of his last nine cuts. With Els also feeling down on his luck - "I've got to get myself switched on" said the world No 6 - the way might open for a Donald or a Scott to put their name up there alongside the old PGA champions.

The sponsors will be happy that the toughening up of the course should mean that there will no surprise winner this year. Woosie will have to look elsewhere for pointers, then.