Ian Woosnam, in his role as president of the World Snooker Association, was kept up late at the Crucible on Monday night. The 44-year-old would still rather receive trophies than hand them out but has never lifted up the Benson and Hedges International pot. A 67 in the first round yesterday left the Welshman well positioned, one behind Greg Owen, to correct that omission.
Last Sunday, before racing back to Sheffield, Woosie finished third in the French Open by eagling the last at Paris National. Four days later he opened his account at The Belfry making an eagle at the par-four first hole. He punched a seven-iron into the wind from 140 yards and saw it pitch once and then dive into the hole.
Five birdies and just two bogeys followed on a day when conditions were not as kind as they might have been.
The Brabazon course, which will host the Ryder Cup later this year, is already in terrific condition. Typically, however, the opening day of the European Tour season on home soil remained persistently overcast and chilly. It was not a day on which to be feeling as if swinging the club was "like trying to open a rusty gate". But that is how Woosnam feels after making a few changes to his posture. "It hurts my back to stand as I am now but I haven't swung this good for a long time," he said.
"I wasn't doing what I should be doing because it felt like a strain on my back. But it is only for 30 seconds at a time and hopefully my back will get used to it." Woosie won the World Match Play at Wentworth last October after his 15-club blunder at the Open at Lytham. Without that, he might have been returning to The Belfry in September as a Ryder Cup player rather than Sam Torrance's vice-captain.
But that is all conjecture and Woosnam has done his best to expunge the memory.
Owen, whose 66 matched the record for the revamped course, has fond memories of leading the Open in the early stages last year. "It showed me I don't need to do anything special, just do what I do well consistently," said the 30-year-old. Yesterday what he did well was to hit the fairways, having also worked on what he described as his "lazy posture" earlier in the week. John Daly had a solid 70, two under par, the same score as the best placed of the Ryder Cup team, Niclas Fasth, while Colin Montgomerie chipped in at the last to be one under.
Monty made news for changing his caddie this week, something most pros do regularly. Few, however, hire a new one quite like David Carter, who had a 68. On Wednesday night he had just got into bed when he asked his girlfriend, Therese Jacobson: "Would you caddie for me, babe?" Therese, a seven-handicapper, had caddied for her brother, Swedish tour player Fredrik, but not previously for Carter. "She said, 'What! I haven't had a practice round or got a yardage book.' But I said it wasn't a problem and we had a lot of fun," said Carter. "I bogeyed the first but was still a lot more relaxed than I would have been before. She played her part and kept me going."
Benson and hedges International (The Belfry) Leading first round scores: (GB unless stated): 66 G Owen. 67 I Woosnam. 68 D Carter, A Cabrera (Arg), A Wall. 69 B Lane, J Donaldson, J Sandelin (Swe), S Lyle, R Wessels (SA). 70 M Campbell (NZ), N Fasth (Swe), D Lee, P O'Malley (Aus), J Daly (US), I Poulter, C Wi (S Kor), I Garbutt, J Milkha Singh (Ind). 71 A Forsyth, G Evans, R Muntz (Neth), T Bjorn (Den), R Claydon, P Senior (Aus), P Fowler (Aus), D Drysdale, M Foster, R Jacquelin (Fr), S Little, P Baker, P Harrington (Irl), E Romero (Arg), P Price, B Rumford (Aus), C Montgomerie. 72 R Rafferty, L Parsons (Aus), P Eales, B Langer (Ger), T Immelman (SA), C Rocca (It), R Chapman, M Vibe-Hastrup (Den), J-F Remesy (Fr), T Gillis (US), G Turner (NZ), P Golding, J Bickerton, N Faldo, M Mackenzie, S Torrance, S Scahill (NZ), S Luna (Sp).