Last man on moon proves to be star turn

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 12:00am

Move over Ian Woosnam. Step aside Paul Lawrie. American Eugene Cernan stole the limelight during yesterday's meet-the-players press conference with tales of bravery and adventure far more captivating than those conjured up by any of the leading professionals competing at the Omega Hong Kong Open. Cernan isn't a pro golfer but he's definitely out of this world.

Former astronaut Cernan made a grand entrance and almost immediately captivated an audience as he recounted his adventures on Apollo 17.

Cernan was the last man to leave footprints on the moon and the 66-year-old, who was also the first man to circumnavigate the earth twice in space, was a hit with the leading golfers for the 42nd running of the SAR's oldest tournament which starts tomorrow at Fanling.

'You guys are all young pros. Well, at least young to me. But I bet you I could hit the ball further than you guys . . . on the moon,' said Cernan, who is executive consultant to Spacehab Inc and chief executive officer of the Cernan Corporation. 'I remember [former astronaut] Alan Shepherd took his golf clubs and one day decided to hit a few golf balls [on the moon]. You know there's no air on the moon and the gravity is one sixth of that to earth.

'Imagine what you pros could do if you drove the ball out there? The ball would go forever,' he said.

Asked what it was like to re-enter the earth's atmosphere from the moon, the wiry Cernan said: 'You're travelling at 25,000 miles an hour and I can tell you it feels as if you were in the inside of a comet. It's quite an experience.'

Former British Open champion Paul Lawrie hasn't been to the moon but he thinks he has a fair chance of ending an injury-plagued season by grabbing the silverware on Sunday.

Lawrie, who finished 26th in the European Order of Merit, said he felt his game was improving after having to cope with a season almost wrecked by neck, ankle and even groin injuries.

'My season has been indifferent. I was just unlucky this year with so many injuries. I was out for about seven weeks. Normally, when you have an injury you'd expect to be out for two weeks but I was out for a lot longer. Considering that I had so many injuries this season, finishing 26th in the European Order of Merit wasn't a bad effort,' said the Scot. 'I played well in Bangkok [Thailand Open] last week and my swing is good but my putting is not so good. It's my last chance to win a tournament this year and hopefully I will be the player who gets the trophy.'

Welshman Ian Woosnam, who won the Hong Kong Open in 1987 and was beaten by one stroke by Sweden's Patrik Sjoland for the title last year, said he hadn't been playing well the past few weeks. 'But hopefully I will get my form back while playing at Fanling. I went close last year and I almost caught Patrik [Sjoland]. I'm hopeful of my chances this year,' said the former Masters champion.

Defending champion Sjoland has had the last three weeks off but said he felt good enough to mount a strong challenge. 'I feel quite fit at the moment but my form is not quite as good as it was when I won it last year. I played 18 holes at Fanling yesterday and another 13 holes today. I'm a bit rusty. I feel very motivated as any defending champion would and hopefully I will be right up there on Sunday,' said the Swede.