The Open 2012: Ian Woosnam's Open clubs error still hurts

By Peter ShuttleworthBBC Sport Wales

If you go down to the Royal Lytham rough today, you'll be sure of a big surprise.

Buried somewhere amid the long grass and gorse bushes, you may find an old golf club - about 11 years old, maybe a little more - belonging to a little Welshman.

If the driver in the rough beside the second tee is still there, it would stand as a monument to where Ian Woosnam's dream of winning the famous Claret Jug he so desperately craved finally died.

And while few will remember the name Miles Byrne, Woosnam has never been allowed to forget him.

The former world number one had just moved into a share of the 2001 Open Championship lead having almost superbly holed an opening tee shot to rapturous applause on his final round.

Woosnam memorably triumphed at the 1991 Masters but, after four top-eight finishes, victory at his home major had eluded the old hay-baler from mid-Wales farming stock.

So after starting what ultimately transpired to be his final major title charge with a sumptuous birdie on the first to move onto seven-under-par, Woosnam stood atop of Lytham's second tee with a renewed vigour and belief that perhaps his time had come.

That emotional rush lasted all of a few seconds.

Byrne, the recently appointed caddie, then uttered those fatal words that will haunt Woosnam for the rest of his days: "There's too many clubs in the bag."

As Woosnam's mood swung from anger to a sense of numbness, through gritted teeth he told match referee John Paramor: "John, I've got one too many."

Players are only permitted 14 clubs so on realising Byrne's 15-club blunder, Woosnam's infamous red mist descended as the offending club ascended high into the bright Lancashire sunshine before falling into a grassy grave.

Then referring to the number of penalty strokes would be added to his card, Woosnam asked: "How many?"

Paramor, a tall gentleman wearing dark glasses resembling more a nightclub bouncer than a rules official, held up his fingers and replied: "Two."

Miles Byrne and Ian Woosnam
Miles Byrne and Ian Woosnam parted company just weeks after the 2001 Open

A nervous silence was broken by Woosnam's rant to his caddie: "God, I give you a job to do and you can't do it."

The fiery former amateur boxer, perhaps understandably, not only lost two shots but more crucially his composure and £218,334 in prize money that subsequently cost him a ninth appearance in Europe's Ryder Cup team.

Woosnam's spare driver quickly became the most expensive golf club in history as a second-place finish and a £360,000 pay cheque would have been banked if Byrne had remembered to count those clubs 10 minutes before he actually did.

No one can accurately assess if momentum from his first-tee heroics would have catapulted Woosnam to victory on that fateful Sunday but his caddie catastrophe certainly overshadowed David Duval's only major crown.

The problem stemmed from Woosnam trying out two drivers on the practice range.

And while it is the ultimate responsibility of the player for how many clubs in his bag, it is unquestionably the duty of the caddie to check no more than 14 are taken out on the course.

Woosnam stood by his caddie, well for two weeks anyway before sacking the Irishman for failing to show up for an early tee-off time at the Scandinavian Masters.

Both parties went their separate ways and do not ask the Welshman where that "extra" club is now as he does not know and, frankly, he does not care after it cost him his last major stand.

And despite all of his achievements, Woosnam's Open misery still cuts deep 11 years on as he politely declines to recall the emotions of a day that is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.

Asked of his Lytham memories in the build-up as the Open returns to the scene of his nightmare, Woosnam says with a chuckle: "I think we can all answer that question - and I'm not going to get into that."

For all of his wins in an illustrious 36-year professional career, it is the tournament he did not win that people seem to remember the most.

In fact, Woosnam requested a member of a crowd be removed from this year's Masters - 21 years on from his famous victory at Augusta - for continually jeering and asking him "how many clubs in the bag?"

Not a mention that he was world number one for 50 weeks, became just the fourth European to wear the famous Masters Green Jacket, he finished in the top 10 in 10 major championships and became the first player to win the World Match Play Championship in three different decades.

His Ryder Cup record as a player was not bad either as he won a record 10-and-a-half four-ball points during his eight appearances and enjoyed a 100% record as a non-playing member, helping Europe beat the United States as vice-captain in 2002 before skippering Europe to a record 18.5-9.5 Ryder Cup victory at The K Club in 2006.

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