Woosnam worries as Poulter turns into game's pariah

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The Independent Online

The $3m (£2m) that Tiger Woods is reportedly being paid to play in the Desert Classic here this week is probably incentive enough for the 30-year-old to make a rare venture on to the European Tour, though Tom Lehman might wish to fantasise that the world No 1 is also on something of a Ryder Cup spying mission.

Goodness knows what Woods's opening day's report read like, if indeed he did e-mail back to his American captain last night. Something along the lines of: "Don't worry, skip, they've totally lost it. One of their top men has upset the rest by wearing an Arsenal shirt on the course while their captain is more worried about his damned speech than us."

Woods would not have been joking, either. For while Ian Poulter, that dashing English clothes-horse, was opening his chequebook in readiness to pay a fine for donning his beloved team's jersey during the first round of last week's Qatar Masters, Ian Woosnam was revealing the angst his role in a far-off opening ceremony is causing him.

"I had the speech written six months ago," said the Welshman, almost counting down the days before he must deliver it at the K Club this September. "I have never been too concerned about how my team will shape up, but making that speech has been playing on my mind for ages. I can tell you it is long and I am practising it every day. I keep reading it over and over."

The 48-year-old has not stopped there. To ensure panic does not reduce him to a mumbling wreck in front of millions he is using a technique for relieving stress called "HeartMath". This has involved the former Masters champion wearing a monitor to learn how to control his heart-rate and he has found it so beneficial that he is about to become an ambassador for the Californian company.

Not to say that the fiery little Welshman does not find his blood boiling every now and again, particularly when he hears certain American players - including Woods - whining about the combative nature of the biennial team event.

"It was nice to hear David Toms saying recently how much he wanted to play in the Ryder Cup," said Woosnam. "Up until then it was all about them preferring the Presidents Cup, where 'the atmosphere is better'.

"I don't know how anybody could say that, as the Ryder Cup is one of the biggest team competitions in the world in any sport. It is the one you want to play in."

Poulter is as desperate to appear in Ireland as any other member of the 2004 winners, although yesterday he was more concerned about the scale of punishment he faces for his Gunners-related faux pas.

Officials, as well as a number of his fellow professionals, are known to be furious that he showed so little respect for golf's strict fashion conventions.

"I think it was the giant 02 logo the Tour objected to most of all," admitted Poulter. See, the oxygen of publicity is not always a good thing.

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