The 205-yard, par 3 start to next week’s British Open was enough to cause two-time U.S. Open champ Curtis Strange, some agita in his playing days. But it was nothing like what happened to Ian Woosnam in 2001.
“The first thing you need to do on that tee is count your clubs,” ESPN analyst Andy North, also a two-time winner of the U.S. Open, said during a Thursday teleconference ahead of the Open Championship. The contest will take place on the same Royal Lytham & St Annes course where a goof by Woosnam and his caddie likely cost the Welshman his last chance to lift a Claret Jug. “That wasn’t the case the last time we were over there.”
It certainly wasn’t for Woosnam, who owned a share of the lead after a birdie at the first hole in Sunday’s final round. Faster than he or his looper, Miles Byrne, could say “Rule 4-4,” Woosnam’s edge was gone as officials assessed him two penalty strokes for carrying too many clubs in his bag.
Byrnes had the unhappy job of telling Woosnam on the second tee that he was lugging 15 clubs, and not the standard 14, as prescribed by the regulation that states, rather simply, “The player must not start a stipulated round with more than fourteen clubs.” Rules official John Paramor slapped a two-shot foul on Woosnam, who, according to reports of the event, angrily heaved the extra driver into the rough and let loose with a few f-bombs.
Woosnam, by all accounts, was furious about the mishap that occurred when he practiced with two drivers prior to Sunday’s finale and he and Byrne neglected to leave one of them in the locker. After calling the penalty on himself, Woosnam promptly bogeyed the third and fourth holes. He came back with an eagle at the sixth and birdies on 11, 13, and 16, and finished tied for third place, four shots back of winner David Duval.
As for the opening hole, it may be an atypical start to a major championship, but having to navigate nine of the more than 200 bunkers that dot the track presents a challenging test of accuracy and strategy, according to Strange, who, like North, opines for ESPN.
“My concern was picking the proper club, having to hit the ground and then having it run out properly," said Strange. "The anxiousness of having that as your first starting shot was enough for me.”
Byrne, by the way, received his pink slip two weeks later, but not because of his trouble with math when he failed to count Woosnam's clubs. Woosnam sacked Byrne after the bagman overslept and missed his boss' tee time at the Scandinavian Masters.