New approach helping Woosnam to walk tall again

Andy Farrell on the Welshman who has rediscovered his touch just in time to make a serious challenge for the Open
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Frank Nobilo had made a wise choice of practice partner. "I only needed to come in with a couple of pars," the Kiwi said. "Woosie made all the birdies. Did we take the money? We were four up after six. We won the game, the presses, everything.''

Colin Montgomerie and Barry Lane were the men who had to put their hands in their pockets. Ian Woosnam is in a winning mode. He has a confident mood to go with it. The Woosnam Walk was back as he came down the 18th at Carnoustie last week, in winning the Scottish Open, and it was there again yesterday in his final practice round for today's 125th Open.

At 3.04 this afternoon, Woosnam goes off with Gary Player, the 1974 champion here, and Corey Pavin, the 1994 US Open champion. It is virtually the only three-star grouping in the entire draw and worth watching for another reason. The feeling is growing that the Welshman, who has a history of winning in successive weeks, is about to raise the silver claret jug for the first time.

Over the last year, Woosnam, 38, has taken to playing practice rounds with Montgomerie because they share the same coach. Bill Ferguson is the man behind Monty's rise to winning the European money list three years in a row and he preaches a dogma of simplicity. Woosnam's swing was the glorious culmination of the very basics of golf until, having become the Masters champion and world No 1 in 1991, he tried to improve on nature. The alterations eventually resulted in a 1995 season in which he did not win, or look like winning, for the first time in a decade.

With Ferguson's help, Woosnam rediscovered his top form to win back-to- back tournaments at the beginning of the year. Yesterday, Ferguson's usual working pattern was reversed. While Woosnam merely needed a quick check- up, Montgomerie kept him on the range for most of the afternoon. For that reason, the Scot refused a visit to the press centre. Woosnam also declined the invitation. He is trying not to say too much. "I'm super-confident," was what he started to say, before settling for: "I'm feeling confident. I'm trying to relax and enjoy myself.''

Woosnam is not afraid of word games. "I'm not putting well," is one of his favourites. A switch in his stance during the second round last week has helped, as has a device he knocked up at home. It is a putter with a hinge in the shaft. If the shaft does not remain straight in the takeaway, it indicates a lack of rhythm.

Another speciality is: "If I can only sort out my driving." By no stretch of the imagination can someone who wins at Carnoustie, in a howling gale, be driving the ball poorly. He is happy with his iron play, so that must be out of this world. "He is playing like the Woosie of old," Nobilo said. "When he gets confident, he is difficult to beat. He is very close to playing as he was when he was No 1 in the world. When he is playing like that, it is beautiful to watch. He is back to having that natural swing of his.''

But there is one vital quality which is required to win a major championship, and that is the reason Montgomerie has yet to win one. In battling the elements last week, Woosnam said: "You have to keep patient." He is trying to do the same here. As the man on the Shropshire Star who has followed his exploits, man and boy, confirmed: "This is the one he wants and I've never seen him so focused."