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Ian Woosnam plays 500th European Tour tournament

Ian Woosnam will add another milestone to an already distinguished career Thursday.

Europe's Ryder Cup captain, Woosnam tees off on the European Tour for the 500th time when the BMW Championship begins at the Wentworth Club. Woosnam will become just the 15th player in tour history to achieve the feat.

Woosnam will be facing a tough field in his milestone event as Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Adam Scott are back from the United States to take on the top players in European golf.

In his first European Tour event, Woosnam tied for 53rd in the 1979 Italian Open. His first tournament victory came three years later and he captured his first Order of Merit title in 1987.

"It feels like 5,000, not 500," said the 48-year-old Welshman. "I've had some good times, I've had some ups and downs. I'm a farmer's son. I had a 1 handicap when I turned professional and I was very erratic. A lot of people said I wouldn't make it.

"I think I'm fortunate to stand here having won 45 tournaments around the world. It's been quite a good achievement - plus I've enjoyed myself along the way as well."

While still wanting to prove he is competitive - his last victory was at Wentworth in the 2001 World Match Play - Woosnam's attention will inevitably be on how the leading candidates for his team are faring.

This is a huge week in the race. For example, if the title went to England's Jonathan Lomas, he could leap all the way from 67th in the standings into one of the 10 automatic spots.

Woosnam's main focus, of course, is on the players at the top of the standings. But he will be relieved that there are still four months to go before the Americans try to win back the trophy at the K Club near Dublin.

Points leader Henrik Stenson says he is "struggling a bit with form." No. 2 Jose Maria Olazabal is "really rusty" after five weeks off and Colin Montgomerie - who trails the absent Sergio Garcia for third - has missed the cut seven times in his last nine tournaments.

Luke Donald and David Howell, at fifth and sixth, respectively, have had to pull out of recent events with back trouble and No. 7 Paul McGinley underwent knee surgery last Thursday. McGinley pulled out of the event Wednesday afternoon after undergoing a fitness test.

Despite the injuries and struggles, Woosnam remains positive, pointing out that Thomas Bjorn, Paul Casey and Darren Clarke finished first, second and third in the Irish Open on Monday.

Bjorn and Clarke still have to get into a top 10 spot, as do Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood.

"We're going into a big run of tournaments now," Woosnam said. "The guys are going to start playing in their own backyard and they are going to gain confidence."

In the final weeks leading up to the end of qualifying, Woosnam hopes to be paired with some of those in with a chance of being part of his team. In fact, he thought that might have started already.

"I just presumed they (the tournament directors) would do it. I found it strange last week that I was playing with two Argentinians," Woosnam said. "I just haven't had time to get around to asking, but I'm asking now."

He is paired with Paul Lawrie and Brian Davis on Thursday and Friday.

As the man responsible for the changes to 17 of the 18 holes - all but the short 14th on the 7,308-yard, par-72 West Course layout - Els is waiting to see what the feedback is. So far it has been very positive.

The world's sixth-ranked player still has to prove he is fully recovered from the knee surgery he had last year - mentally more than physically, by his own admission.

It will be no surprise to see him contend for the title he has never won, although it would not be a shock if countrymen Goosen and Trevor Immelman were in contention as well.

Goosen's last competitive hole was a quintuple-bogey which dropped him from third to 10th at the Wachovia Championship. Immelman has finished second in his last two PGA Tour events.

May 25, 2006


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