Woosnam back on form

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The Independent Online
Golf

ANDY FARRELL

reports from Singapore

Ian Woosnam has made better decisions than trying to lift Costantino Rocca. The Welshman likes nothing better than a celebration, but his back did not thank him for the ill-advised action in the joyous aftermath of Europe's Ryder Cup win.

After playing in a tournament in Jakarta last November, Woosnam decided to fly straight home instead of helping Wales' cause in the World Cup. On his return last week to Asia, where he has a huge following, in Singapore, the despondency of then was forgotten. He is still banned from lifting heavy objects, but the trophy for the Johnnie Walker Classic does not come into the category.

Sunday night brought Woosnam's first celebration of a tournament victory for 16 months. After making a birdie at the 18th hole in the final round, Woosnam holed the identical putt from 25 feet to beat Scotland's Andrew Coltart on the third hole of a sudden-death play-off.

Coltart, the 25-year-old who starred in his country's win in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews last October, had equalled the course record at Tanah Merah with a seven-under-par 65 to set the target at 16 under. "I thought I had won," said Coltart, whose only other win was the 1994 Australian PGA. "But Ian made a great three at the last. You have to expect those sort of things to happen."

Coltart had to hole from 20 feet after missing the green at the second extra hole to prolong the interest but, back at the 18th, Woosnam hooked his tee shot into trees. "There was a tiny gap and I had to draw the ball 15 yards," he said.

The five-iron shot worked perfectly and left him with a putt he had already holed once. Coltart had already putted to two feet after finding the right fringe with his approach.

"I was criticised for dropping out of a few tournaments at the end of last year, but by winning here today I think they'll see I made the right move," Woosnam said after his 28th European tour victory.

"My swing is back like it was a few years ago. My rhythm is better and I have more power again. I was a bit wayward with the driver, but my irons were brilliant."

Woosnam, 37, realised he needed a break when players who he normally out-drives by 20 yards were knocking it 30 yards past him. "It was driving me mad and my back was killing me. If it was going to be like that for the rest of my life and I played as I had been, I wouldn't have played any more."

Spurning long sessions on the practice round, and having a massage or ice treatment each night, Woosnam eased the pressure on his back by making a bigger shoulder turn than for some time. He noted the need to transfer his weight better after taking part in the ITV series Peak Performance where his swing was analysed in close-up from all angles. "Being able to see exactly what was wrong was crucial," he said. "If I keep playing as I did today, the next thing I'm looking for is to win the US Masters."

A first European tour win for Coltart may not be far away. Although caught by Woosnam's 66, he set the pace after a host of others flirted with the lead. His charge began with an inspired spell of shot-making in which he had seven birdies in nine holes, including a run of five in a row from the sixth. Six times he found himself putting from within 10 feet and a 6-iron to 18 inches at the short 14th almost found the cup.

"I am disappointed but I'm chuffed to have gone out and shot 65," he said. "Coming here I didn't expect this. At least, I don't have to worry about my tour card and there's always next week."

That is at the Heineken Classic in Perth, were both he and Woosnam are playing. Woosnam said to Coltart: "I think you'll win soon and if it's any consolation I hope you beat me the next time we meet in a play-off."

JOHNNIE WALKER CLASSIC (Tanah Merah, Singapore) Leading final-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 272 I Woosnam 69 68 69 66; A Coltart 69 68 70 65 (Woosnam won play-off at third extra hole). 275 O Karlsson (Swe) 66 69 74 66; P Curry 68 70 69 68; W Riley (Aus) 70 67 67 71. 276 Park Nam-sin (S Kor) 72 67 72 65, B Hughes (Aus) 66 72 70 68; C Parry (Aus) 72 68 67 69; E Els (SA) 67 67 72 70; A Painter (Aus) 67 70 69 70; F Couples (US) 68 69 69 70. 277 A Hunter 69 71 68 69; P Eales 69 67 68 73. 278 D Clarke 67 70 73 68; P McGinley 71 68 69 70. 279 D Dunakey (US) 71 68 70 70; R Boxall 73 70 65 71. 280 D Fardon (Aus) 69 70 71 70; C Cevaer (Fr) 72 70 68 70; J Daly (US) 67 73 69 71; S Struver (Ger) 71 70 68 71. 281 C Plaphol* (Thai) 72 69 70 70; A Gilligan (Aus) 73 69 69 70; K Tomori (Japan) 70 73 70 68; H Clark 70 68 71 72; J Van de Velde (Fr) 69 71 69 72. 282 R Claydon 73 67 70 72, J Senior (Aus) 71 71 68 72, S Mori (Japan) 74 68 72 68. 283 R Green (Aus) 73 69 70 71; A Sherborne 68 74 70 71; J Singh (India) 69 73 71 70; R Willis 73 65 72 73; S Torrance 68 72 70 73; R Burns 73 69 68 73, I Aoki (Japan) 70 68 71 74; M Mouland 73 70 71 69; D McKenzie (Aus) 68 70 71 74. 284 G Orr 71 72 69 72; B Langer (Ger) 68 74 71 71; P Senior (Aus) 69 71 73 71; J O'Keefe (US) 70 72 74 68. * denotes amateur

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