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Woosnam hit with two-shot penalty

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Now available at finer pro shops everywhere: the Ian Woosnam signature club set. You get a set of 14 clubs for $1,000, but you can get 15 for only two strokes more.

What a thing. Woosnam, the squat Welshman who once survived the fringes of the European Tour by living on fast food, went to bed Saturday night as co-leader in the British Open. Niclas Fasth had taken a one-stroke lead by the time Woosie teed off in the next-to-final pairing, but he took care of that by nearly acing the hole with a tee shot that stopped six inches from the hole.

He tapped in for a birdie that put him in the lead with Fasth. But there was just one problem. When he reached the second tee, caddie Miles Byrne informed him that there were 15 clubs in the bag, including two drivers. The limit, of course, is 14 clubs.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club is like the IRS, only with less of a sense of humor. Not the sort of organization to look the other way on a rule violation, the R&A nailed Woosman with the specified two-stroke penalty, turning his birdie into a bogey.

So rather than holding part of the lead in the world's oldest golf championship, Woosnam was two strokes back along with a crowd of competitors as deep as the gallery.

"I felt like I'd been kicked in the teeth," said Woosnam, who tossed the offending club into the weeds and proceeded to turn a shade of crimson rarely seen anywhere at a major other than in Tiger Woods' shirt.

"It's hard enough to be level with some of the best players in the world. To give them a two-shot advantage, I wasn't feeling too enthusiastic about it," he said.

Woosnam says he won't fire his caddie, but Byrne better start updating his resume; Woosnam only hired Byrne this year after releasing longtime caddie Phil "Wobbly" Morby.

"It is the biggest mistake he will make in his life. He won't do it again." Woosnam said. "He's a good caddie. He will have a severe bollocking when I get in, but I am not going to sack him. He's a good lad. He just has to watch what he's doing.

"I had been experimenting with two drivers on the practice ground. Miles thought someone else had taken the driver out of the bag and taken it to the locker room, but it hadn't happened. There are two big head covers on there. He should have spotted it. Maybe he was a little nervous, just trying to think of other things, trying to praise his man, really. It's the ultimate sin for a caddie."

Asked whether he has a particular method for counting his clubs, Woosnam replied, "We generally start with one and end with 14."

Now, odd things occur in tournaments from time to time. But for something like this to a happen to a leader in a major?

"I can't really think of anything stupid like that that has happened before," Woosnam said. "That's the first time it has ever happened to me. I've signed wrong cards, signed for wrong scores before, but nothing like that. ... Aw geez."

Woosnam wound up four strokes behind David Duval, so you can't say that the penalty cost him the Open. On the other hand, who knows how the day would have played out had it not happened.

"I did not really get it out of my head all the way round," said Woosnam, who bogeyed Nos. 3 and 4. "I kept thinking, if I hadn't a two-stroke penalty I could have been leading or been joint leader. I never shook it off, but the first few holes I felt really lousy, know what I mean?"

Woosnam got himself back in the hunt by eagling No. 6, and adding birdies at Nos. 11 and 13 to briefly move two shots behind Duval's lead. He also drew strength from a sympathetic gallery. "They felt sorry for me," he said. "That helped me."

A bogey at the 17th moved him four back and ended his slim hopes. He finished in a tie for third. Take away the penalty and he would have been second and about $350,000 richer.

It also possibly cost him a spot on the Ryder Cup team. Second-place would have put him comfortably among the top 10. Instead, he's 12th.

So, will you think about this the rest of your life, Woosie?

"I'll just have to win next year, won't I?"