Golf: Fears over Olazabal

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The Independent Online
AT ONE point yesterday the storm clouds heading for the European Tour were said to be so severe that the final round of the Lancome Trophy in Paris would have to be abandoned. At the time of writing, this looks unduly pessimistic. But whatever happens, Mark James is adamant it will have no bearing on the Ryder Cup in Boston.

As long as play commences, it will do so with Miguel Angel Jimenez, defending champion and cup rookie, leading by one at 11 under from Pierre Fulke with Colin Montgomerie one further back. "Everything is fine," James said. "I'm looking at the leaderboard but not reading anything into it."

But the main concern remains the form of Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe's most experienced team member. During his third round of 71, a level par effort with four bogeys and birdies, Olazabal hit only five fairways and twice hit drives so poorly they clattered trees close to the tee.

James will wait to make his own judgement in practice at Brookline. "Any player's form is a concern and I am aware it is unlikely for all 12 players to be in top form. Obviously, it would be great for Jose to be playing really well. We all know how good he can be in Ryder Cups and even if he is not on top form, he is still a good player.

"I would hope that any player who is not happy with his form will tell me. I want to get feedback from the players and it is my job along with Sam Torrance and Ken Brown to get the best out of them.

"But, equally, just because a player is a little unhappy or depressed, that does not mean they cannot play great golf. Ollie is a streaky player who can get on the crest of a wave. By all accounts he has played well this week and if he was in a slump, then he seems to be out of it."

Olazabal might need to be convinced of that. "There were question marks when I came here and it is coming slowly," the Spaniard said. "I know what I have to do and that is hit my driver straighter. I have a few days to go."

What upset the five-time Cup man was the distortion of his comments that this time he might not play all five series as on all previous occasions into one tabloid headline that he might play in the match at all. "The headline was out of line," he said. "Whoever wrote it should be ashamed. A few bad shots will not stop me getting on that plane. Nothing will. The Ryder Cup is very special."

It took Gary Player to remind Olazabal just how good he is before his win at Augusta. But Montgomerie said: "He does not need to be told by us how good he is. He has performed every time in the Ryder Cup and is a fantastic team man.

"To have the Masters champion on your side is a great asset. He holes putts under pressure better than anyone else. If there is a five-footer to win the match, before it was Seve Ballesteros, but now you, me and everyone else in the team would want Ollie to be the man."

Montgomerie indicated the current thinking was for Olazabal to partner Jimenez rather than Garcia. "All the rookies are looking to impress the captain at this stage," Monty said. "You want to be playing next week and not watching and I think Jimenez has done enough to play in the Friday morning foursomes with Ollie and if they win that, just keep them going."

The Scot led by three going into the final round at the British Masters but lost and is keen to reverse the outcome today. Changing his putter grip at the turn helped him to come home in three under for a 68. Jimenez, who had a 69, said: "Tomorrow I want just to try and concentrate on winning the tournament and defending my title."