Masters 2020: Augusta postponement gives Ian Woosnam hope of playing

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Ian Woosnam receives the green jacket from Nick Faldo after winning the 1991 Masters
Ian Woosnam receives the Green Jacket from Nick Faldo after winning the 1991 Masters

Almost a year after saying he had probably completed his last Masters, Ian Woosnam is playing Augusta again.

Unfortunately it is only on a simulator in his garage, but the significant news is that the 62-year-old Welshman is able to swing his golf clubs thanks to successful back surgery two months ago.

Woosnam, the 1991 champion, was set to miss the Masters for only the second time since his debut in 1988. The pain of walking the severe Augusta National undulations had become too much for him.

Now he is wondering whether the delay to this year's tournament because of the coronavirus outbreak might open a route back into the 2020 field if it is played, as rumoured, in the autumn.

"I don't know what the rules are and what's been decided yet," Woosnam told BBC Sport. "But if it does happen in October, I'll be fit and healthy and ready to go and hopefully maybe able to have a go at playing."

The 1991 champion at Augusta has spent the last three decades battling ankylosing spondylitis, a rheumatic disease that can cause his vertebrae to lock.

When he said last year's Masters would be his last, Woosnam kept in the back of his mind the possibility that surgery might rescue his playing career. He had the operation on 22 January before heading to Barbados to recuperate.

"If you can imagine a polo mint and the nerves going through it and the hole had really tightened up," he explained. "They went in there and opened it up and let the nerves go a lot freer to take the pain away from my legs.

"Walking was painful and after practice on my chipping and putting it would get into my gluts and lower back and I basically was in a lot of pain and I just couldn't shake it off.

"It didn't matter how much physio I had, I just couldn't get rid of it but thank God I have now. It's a lot looser although coming back to this cold weather I'm feeling it a little bit."

Nevertheless Woosnam is swinging his clubs once again and, inevitably, his choice of course on his garage simulator is the home of the Masters. "On the projector and on the computer I've got Augusta on it," he said.

"So I'm playing golf and it is keeping me busy and getting my swing back together again."

Woosnam would have travelled to Augusta for April's tournament had the schedule remained unchanged and would not have been worried by being present in a non-playing capacity.

"They still have a lot of beer there and good food, I think I would have coped alright!" he laughed. "No, it would have been interesting to watch the guys play.

"It would have been frustrating but I can only do what my body can do. This is going to give me a chance to see whether I can go up and down those hills and train for it a little bit more."

While the opportunity to compete in the Masters is a lifelong right of all winners of the Green Jacket, also of significance to Woosnam is the chance to compete again on the Champions Tour once he is fully recovered.

"I'm not quite there yet so it's actually given me a bit more time to get fitter," he said. "In that way it's good for me but in a month's time I'm going to be raring to go."

Equally, as someone whose glittering career was defined by his brilliant Masters win, Woosnam knows this is a time when all golf fans start to think of flowering azaleas and dogwood, cathedral pines and lightening fast greens.

"It's Augusta time, everybody would have been looking forward to it," he said. "I was watching the Players Championship and all of a sudden that gets cancelled and then Augusta.

"We just don't know when it'll be all over. Everybody's saying a couple of months. For me I wouldn't be surprised if it's going to be more like September or October time and you're going to have to be able to travel as well."

The good news from Woosnam's point of view is that he will be ready for action whenever we return to a state of sporting normality.

And on the Champions Tour he will not need to rely on a buggy as was the case prior to his operation. "If you're walking you are keeping yourself fit, you're not doing that if you're on a cart all the time," he said.

"When I'm walking I feel like I'm part of the game and it makes me concentrate a little better."

Woosnam, surely, can be forgiven for any impatience he might feel in the coming weeks.

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