By Eddie Pells
AP National Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. — After he won the Masters 25 years ago, one tiny question followed Ian Woosnam wherever he went: How could such a small man hit the ball that far?
Nobody asks that question much anymore, and after failing to break 80 for the second straight round Friday, the 5-foot-4 former champion, known by many as “The Wee Welshman,” decided he’s had enough of competitive golf at Augusta National.
“I did say if I shot in the 80s, I’d call it a day,” said Woosnam, who shot 81 to go with an opening-round 82. “It’s too much. Just going around in pain all the way around, really. You can’t expect to play well while you’re doing that.”
The 58-year-old Woosnam said he suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a painful inflammatory disease that can cause vertebrae to fuse together and cause people to hunch forward. He said there’s not much doctors can do, other than to treat the pain. Walking the steep hills of Augusta National, where all but four holes have been lengthened since his victory in 1991, only makes things worse.
“It just seizes me up and I just can’t swing as good as I properly can,” Woosnam said. “I’m in pain all the way around, so it’s time to say ‘bye-bye,’ really.”
This was the quarter-century anniversary of Woosnam’s lone major victory. He battled Jose Maria Olazabal and Tom Watson all day that Sunday in 1991 before becoming the first No. 1 in the then-five-year-old history of the world ranking to win the green jacket.
Watson has made no secret out of 2016 being his last Masters. Woosnam took a more understated approach, not telegraphing his intent, and “announcing” his decision in front of a small group of reporters not far from the old oak tree near the clubhouse.
Winning the Masters gives a player an invitation for life, and deciding when enough is enough is a delicate task. In 2005, six-time champion Jack Nicklaus also went away quietly, walking off the course after missing the cut and, with tears welling in his eyes, saying he’d had enough.
“I’m not a golfer anymore,” Nicklaus said that day. “They’re young. I’m an old man trying to figure out some way to get out of the way.”
Woosnam was more to the point.
“In the crapper,” he said about the state of his game.
Fitting considering the way this ended.
He yanked his tee shot on the 18th hole so far left, it flew into a cluster of concession stands, souvenir shops and bathrooms located opposite a thicket of trees and nearer the eighth tee box than the 18th fairway.
“I hear a clang, and I thought somebody had hit our building,” said James Simpson, who works in the coffee shop between the holes.
Turns out, the clang was Woosie playing through — his ball hit the ice machine and bounced toward the path near No. 8.
Woosnam took relief and got a relatively clear shot back to the 18th fairway. He punched back to the fairway, hit his next shot to 8 feet and finished his Masters career with a par unlike any other.
“That’s about as well as I played all week,” he said.
It was another 8-footer on the same green, a generation ago, that saved par on Sunday and gave Woosnam his Masters championship. It counted as one of his 29 official victories on the European Tour. Now that he’s hanging up the shoes at Augusta, he plans to keep coming for the Champions Dinner and to watch the action from outside the ropes.
“I didn’t want to finish off playing like that but you can only do your best,” he said. “It’s a shame, really. And I’ve got a green jacket, anyway.”