AUGUSTA, Ga. – Ian Woosnam doesn’t have much in common with Michael Jordan. But the 5-foot-4 Welshman does share one thing with the NBA legend: they’ve both come out of retirement twice.
The 63-year-old Woosnam, who won his lone major title 30 years ago at Augusta National, will play his 32nd Masters Tournament after deciding to hang it up on a couple of occasions, citing chronic pain from ankylosing spondylitis, a rare type of arthritis that causes discomfort and stiffness in the spine.
“That’s my last go,” he said in 2016 after shooting 82-81. “I am not fit enough to play with my bad back. Every time I play this course it just seizes on me, and I can’t swing the club properly. I am in pain all the way round, so it’s time to say bye-bye.”
Of course, it wasn’t. Woosie teed it up the next year and in each of the two followings editions before again, in 2019, vowing to call it quits: “I think this is going to be my last time playing here,” he said. “I’m just in too much pain.”
Yet, here he is – once more – in the Masters field after a one-year hiatus.
“I've always said if I could do something, I'd have another go,” said Woosnam, who missed his first Masters in 12 years last November as he was still recovering from surgery on his L3 and L4 vertebrae in January 2020.
Woosnam had the procedure in Cleveland, Ohio, before heading to Barbados for his rehab. He was hitting balls less than a month later, but then the pandemic happened and Woosnam retreated back to the U.K., where he’s spent most of his time until now. His last competitive event was on the European Senior Tour in October 2019, and the extra time off has given Woosnam’s back a chance to recover.
“I’m not blowing it away,” said Woosnam, who hasn’t made a cut or broken par at Augusta National since 2008. “I haven't played in a tournament for 18 months … [The Masters is] not a bad place to start, is it? I'm going to be a little nervous.”
For Woosnam, he doesn’t hit the ball as far as he did in 1991, when he drove it over the fairway bunkers on the 18th hole to set up his winning par. “Now, I can't even reach the bunkers,” he quipped.
But Jose Maria Olazabal offered some great perspective on Monday: “There's a lot of reasons why we should be coming here. I mean, obviously, the golf course is beating us pretty well, but that is secondary at this time of our lives.”
That couldn’t be truer for Woosnam, who knows he’s not going to win this week. Heck, he’s just hoping to “walk around for 36 holes … and just to try and play the course without being in any pain really, because I've been in pain for the last 20 years playing around here.”
Woosnam played nine holes Monday alongside Lee Westwood and Shane Lowry, and he said he felt good afterward. It was his first action around Augusta National since last Wednesday, when he played with his caddie and a member.
“Not very good,” Woosnam said of his round, before adding: “That was good because we played really quick. I think we went around in three hours, but it was a bit of a marathon, and it was good. … If I can do it at that speed, then I know I can do it in whatever speed.”
Woosnam will be hoping this tournament goes by at a snail’s pace. He enjoys every moment of Masters week, from the Champions Dinner to just playing in front of the patrons. This year, he’s even taken some time to check out a car collection in Athens, where he posted a photo of himself sitting in the Batmobile from the 1989 Batman movie, and he threw some Twitter shade at Bubba Watson and the current generation of Tour pros by taking another photo of himself, this time in front of a Waffle House after enjoying a bacon-and-egg sandwich.
“All the young guys go to Waffle House, and if they go to the Waffle House they always tweet it, so I thought I'd tweet it,” he said. “But we blacked out the sign because it said, ‘We're now hiring,’ something like that.”
Woosnam may have some time for an early-April side job one of these days, but for now, he doesn’t sound like a guy ready to give up his spot in the Masters field.
“Hopefully,” he said, “if it goes well, I can maybe come back for a few more years.”