Bjorn hits out at 'pathetic captain' Woosnam over Ryder Cup selection

James Corrigan,Golf Correspondent
Tuesday 05 September 2006 00:00 BST

In an unprecedented attack which will throw Europe's Ryder Cup preparations into total disarray, Thomas Bjorn yesterday accused Ian Woosnam of being "barmy" and labelled him "the most pathetic captain I've ever seen".

The verbal assault, more venomous than golf has ever witnessed, came the day after Woosnam had chosen Lee Westwood as his second wild card over Bjorn to complete the dozen that will tackle Tom Lehman's Americans just outside Dublin in 17 days' time.

Westwood's selection had been widely anticipated, and for that reason Bjorn's broadside may appear to most to be a sour gripe, but it is the manner in which Woosnam went about it that drew the bulk of the Dane's fury and which may prove to be most damaging to the Welshman's authority.

"So far his captaincy has been the most pathetic I have ever seen," said the 35-year-old, who is one of the European Tour's most respected players, and who is extremely popular throughout the Ryder Cup team room. "The man is barmy - to be captain and not communicate with a team or those in contention at all. I haven't spoken to him for six months, and then I find that I'm not in the team by watching it on television. How can that be right?"

Bjorn, who has played twice at the biennial tear-up, and who was an assistant captain in 2004, claims that he is not the only professional aghast at Woosnam's tight-lip policy. "There is a lot of uneasiness about his captaincy," he said.

"The whole of last week was hell for all of us in contention, or rather those of us who 'thought' we were. Why did we have to run around being the laughing stock, when his mind must have already been made up? It doesn't earn you much respect, and it looks like he first has to learn how to be a captain. It sure doesn't seem as if he is burdened with too many leadership qualities."

Bjorn is most disgusted at how the 48-year-old did eventually break the news to him. At Sunday evening's announcement, Woosnam informed the media that: "I am going to step out of this room and talk to that guy [meaning Bjorn] and tell him that I went with my gut feeling."

The reality, alleges Bjorn, was rather different. "The first I heard from him was when he came to the hotel bar later on that evening," he said. "He gave me 20 seconds about Lee having won at the K Club five years before. In a bar - that just about sums him up. He has put a lot of players through misery because he just hasn't done the right thing."

Neither is it simply the players he did not pick who Bjorn insists have been ignored by the 1991 Masters champion. "I haven't heard a word off him for half a year, and I've spoken to several players who are on the team, and have been for a long time, and they haven't either," he said. "What sort of captaincy is that? I have lost all respect for him. My relationship with him is completely dead and will remain so. This will be the first time I don't even watch the Ryder Cup on television, and you don't know how sad that is, given how much I care for that tournament. I desperately want the 12 players to be a success, but I want them to do it in spite of the captain."

Yesterday Woosnam insisted on Radio Five Live that Bjorn "wasn't a happy chappy when I told him" - surely the greatest understatement of the cup's long history - and that "I tried to tell him, 'I hope you respect my decision'." Even if Bjorn had been alerted before Woosnam's decision was broadcast live on Sky, his mood would not have been much more convivial.

For a large portion of the Wentworth-based professional's anger was reserved for the simple fact of Westwood being preferred. "Let me say from the outset that I have nothing against Lee. He is a fantastic golfer, a great guy, and you'll never find me saying anything bad about him. But if you can find one category in which he has beaten me, then I would like to see it. Woosnam has got nothing to base his decision on."

Indeed, Bjorn does come out on top of every list - his world ranking is 35, Westwood's is 47; he was 13th on the Ryder Cup qualification chart, Westwood was 21st; Bjorn has a winning average of 0.58 in the Ryder Cup, Westwood has 0.56; Bjorn is 11th on the season's European order of merit, Westwood is 27th.

But what explanation does Woosnam give him then? "If the decision was based on competitive results, then I could go along with it. But it seems there's other reasons," Bjorn said, perhaps alluding to the infamous "British wild-card bias" which is a perennial talking point. "Woosnam based his decision on results which happened five years ago."

There he was referring to Westwood's two wins at the K Club at the turn of the century, and it was believed that Bjorn's own performances on the Palmer Course also influenced Woosnam. Last year, when holding a final-round lead in the European Open, Bjorn shot an 86, which included a calamitous 11, on the par-four 17th. "If that's what it comes down to, then why doesn't he tell me, 'Thomas, you don't have the bottle to stand on the 17th tee'?" he said. "If that's the reason, I'd like to have heard it face to face. I had the bottle to hit the first shot at the Belfry four years ago. There was no issue then."

There is most definitely an issue now, though, and one that is destined to land Bjorn in hot water. At the very least, the European Tour could almost certainly hit Bjorn with a large fine under its "conduct code", and it will be interesting to see how the Ryder Cup team react to their friend's outburst. Woosnam will expect them to back him, or else the match could really descend into farce.

For his part, Westwood has, somewhat fortuitously, flown away from all the furore on a chartered jet bound for a tournament in Singapore. But if, in the mean time, Woosnam anticipates the rest rushing to his corner, then he might be disappointed. As one of the players Bjorn referred to as not having spoken to Woosnam in six months, Jose Maria Olazabal may already have been tetchy, but last week's row with Colin Montgomerie now makes this inevitable. The Spaniard was furious with the Scot for casting doubt on his commitment for not appearing at the BMW International Open - the last qualifying event - but was reportedly also annoyed with Woosnam for igniting the flame in the first place by saying Olazabal had made himself "a bit vulnerable".

Then there is the storm brewing between Woosnam and his predecessor, Bernhard Langer, who wondered publicly in Munich why he had not been asked for advice by the European captain, but had been, several times, by Lehman. All of this, of course, would probably have blown over by the K Club. But not now. Bjorn has just turned what Woosnam called his "dream job" into a developing nightmare.

Bjorn and Woosnam - best of mates in '97

By Chris Maume

The relationship between Ian Woosnam and Thomas Bjorn may be "completely dead" in the Swede's words, but it wasn't always like that. When the pair played together in the victorious 1997 Ryder Cup team, they gave one of the performances of the weekend when they beat Justin Leonard and Brad Faxon 2 and 1 in the Saturday fourballs.

Both had been left out of the first day's play by captain Seve Ballesteros, much to Woosnam's ire. "He didn't even speak to me," Woosnam said after Friday had left the Americans 4.5-3.5 up. "I had no idea what was going on. I'm not happy with the way things are going. All I can do is keep my head up for the benefit of the rest of the lads."

Unsurprisingly, once let off the leash in his pairing with Bjorn the Welshman was pumped up and he and his debutant partner kept their nerve when Leonard produced an eagle and two birdies in three holes on the outward nine.

They responded brilliantly, finishing eight under par for 17 holes in a stirring 2 and 1 victory, and Woosnam was full of praise for his younger team-mate.

"There are great times ahead for European golf," he said. "I've seen some great young players in this team and Thomas was a great partner. From what I've seen we can win the Ryder Cup for the next 10 to 20 years."

Bjorn was similarly unstinting in his praise. "I wanted to show Seve and the team that I could produce the golf needed to win the Ryder Cup," he said. "It was a fantastic feeling to get out there. This is what you dream about and Woosnam was a great person to have there to lean on."

Sadly for Woosnam, his Ryder Cup went off the rails on the final day, when he was crushed in the singles by Fred Couples who hit an eagle and five birdies in 11 holes for an 8 and 7 victory. Bjorn fared better and his half with Leonard proved important as the Europeans finished 14.5-13.5 winners.

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