Woosnam counts on his new caddie

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The Independent Online

Twelve months ago, when Steen Tinning won the inaugural Wales Open here, he partnered Ian Woosnam in the final round and comfortably kept the Welshman at arm's length. What was even more surprising is that Tinning, who recorded his maiden victory, did not regard the Welshman as a major threat.

Four days around Celtic Manor's mountainous terrain is as much a physical test as anything else and, in the fourth round, Woosie was feeling the strain. Tinning shot 69 and Woosnam, who finished joint third, 73.

It could be a different story this week. In what has been the game's most publicised parting of the ways since Tiger Woods dismissed Fluff and Nick Faldo split from Fanny, Woosnam has replaced Myles Byrne, but not with any old caddie. In fact, not even with a caddie at all. He has appointed a friend, Nick Hooper, to carry his bag for the foreseeable future, but he will be required to do a lot more than that.

Hooper is a sports physiotherapist who has been working on Woosnam's back for the last three years. Hooper, a nine handicap golfer, plays at La Moye in Jersey. "I'm killing two birds with one stone,'' Woosnam said. "I've had an occurrence of back trouble and if I want to keep playing to a high standard I need to take on a physio full time. Nick is a keen golfer, a good lad, big, strong and fit. He loves his golf and is looking forward to it.

"He will watch me and the other caddies and as he gains experience he'll get used to it. He has never caddied for me but we have played a lot together.''

Hooper, a 39-year-old father of two, is taking on an occupation with even less pension prospects than a football manager. "It's a marvellous opportunity but it will be slightly daunting as I've not caddied before,'' he said. Hooper made his debut in the Pro-Am yesterday and next week will travel to Atlanta for the US PGA Championship, the last of the season's four majors.

The unfortunate Byrne cost Woosnam £218,000 when he failed to notice there were 15 clubs in the bag instead of 14 until they had reached the second tee in the final round of the Open at Lytham. Woosnam, who was penalised two strokes, finished joint third but said: "Myles is a good man. He won't make that mistake again.'' However, last week in the Scandinavian Masters at Malmo, Byrne overslept, missed the tee time for the final round and was given his cards.

As a physio, Hooper should be accomplished in one of the prime requirements of the job – massaging his employer's ego. "I've had lots of letters from people who would like to caddy for me,'' Woosnam said, "but I worked with Nick every day before the Open on stretching exercises and I felt fantastic. That's what we'll be doing before every round.''

Woosnam, who is not averse to a pint and a cigarette, added: "Even when I'm not playing, I'm going to employ Nick to help me with a fitness regime."

After a round it will no longer be a round of drinks, but a visit to the gym. "If I can take off half a stone and get more supple it will give me more power to walk round the course," Woosnam added.

The Welshman, vice captain to Sam Torrance in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in September, is 16th in the rankings and would have been better placed but for the blunder at Lytham. As for Hooper, he has two vital aids for survival – an alarm clock and a calculator.