Golf: Gritty Olazabal offers glimpse of greatness: Els comes off second-best in tussle with Masters champion that promises many intriguing confrontations to come

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The Independent Online
THE trouble with these players is that their thoughts and emotions are more changeable than an English May. Jose-Maria Olazabal began the week by announcing that his game was so wretched he did not want to talk about it. In any case if there was much more rain he doubted whether he would play golf at all.

Yesterday in glorious sunshine he shot 65 to win the Volvo PGA Championship in what amounted to one of the great closing rounds in one of Europe's most intriguing contests.

After a performance like that - seven under par for the day, 17 under for the tournament, home in 32 with five birdies and overtaking Ernie Els by a stroke - it is clear that Olazabal has reached the point where he could probably walk on water. 'I struggled off the tee,' Olazabal said, adding that what enabled him to put one over on Els was 'heart'.

Olazabal was three strokes behind Els after the third round and predicted that he would have to score 66 to stand a chance of getting his hands on the title and a cheque for pounds 133,330. There he goes again. Wrong. A 66 would only have got him into a play-off. 'I knew I had to score very very well,' Olazabal said. 'Ernie's young and cool under pressure.'

Olazabal, who is 28, is hardly of pensionable age and what made the duel between the Spaniard and the 24-year- old South African particularly appetising is the prospect that there is a lot more to come.

Els, who teed off last with the defending champion Bernhard Langer, missed birdie putts of four feet on the first and fourth holes and by the time he reached the fifth tee he knew that it was game on. Olazabal eagled the fourth, hitting a five-iron to 15 feet. The crowd willed the putt in.

Then he birdied the fifth to go to 13 under. At that point Els had been caught and he responded with a birdie at the fifth. He had to wait until the 12th for his next and it was after that that the crucial blows, according to the two main protagonists, were struck.

Olazabal hit wild tee shots at the 13th and 15th and saved par at the former and birdied the latter with what he described as a fantastic two- iron: he had 216 yards, he hit it pin high and holed from 20 feet for a three. Heart and class. Els, who is not short of either, three-putted the 14th, leaving his first putt five feet short. 'I didn't know what I was thinking about,' Els said.

Once again his lead evaporated and when Olazabal stood on the 17th he could see that Els was not in a position to birdie the 16th. He could also see victory and he duly picked up two more strokes at the 17th and 18th. Els's last chance disappeared when his drive went left at the penultimate hole. 'I lost to the Masters champion,' Els said. 'If he tells you guys he didn't hit the ball well don't believe him.'

Seve Ballesteros began the week by eating humble pie over the saga of the Ryder Cup venue and ended it by choking on a hamburger. Ballesteros, coached by Big Mac O'Grady, needed to finish in the top two in the Order of Merit to gain an exemption to the US Open. Despite a closing 68 he did not quite manage it but something else certainly changed. 'I'll be at the US Open even if I have to row there by boat,' he said earlier in the week.

Yesterday he said he would not attempt to qualify for the second major championship of the year. 'If they think I'm not good enough why should I bother,' he said. 'I've got nothing to prove. If I'm not invited it means I'm not welcome. That's fine. I'm playing good now and if I keep playing like this perhaps one day I'll be good enough to qualify for the US Open. It's not a question of pride. I'm being objective.' A matter of pride is exactly what it is. Eleven years ago Ballesteros pulled off the double of the US Masters and the PGA Championship and was subsequently emulated by Nick Faldo and Langer. Yesterday Olazabal joined the club.

Faldo, an under-achiever this season, finished double- bogey, par, bogey, birdie: 6, 4, 6, 4. He came home in 39 for a level-par 72, hopelessly adrift of the leaders. 'I started well and finished badly,' he said of the fourth round. Of the week, he started badly and finished badly.

SCORES FROM WENTWORTH

VOLVO PGA CHAMPIONSHIP Final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 271 J-M Olazabal (Sp) 67 68 71 65. 272 E Els (SA) 66 66 71 69. 274 B Langer (Ger) 69 70 67 68. 276 J Haeggman (Swe) 69 69 70 68; M-A Jimenez (Sp) 68 66 72 70. 277 S Ballesteros (Sp) 73 66 70 68. 278 M James 68 72 71 67. 279 A Hunter 71 65 72 71. 280 S Lyle 68 71 70 71. 281 K Stables 71 71 71 68; M Mackenzie 73 70 69 69; P Hedblom (Swe) 69 69 71 72; F Nobilo (NZ) 73 66 69 73. 282 H Clark 73 69 70 70; J Lomas 74 68 69 71; P Lawrie 69 70 71 72; C Rocca (It) 67 70 72 73; E Romero (Arg) 69 72 68 73. 283 P Baker 73 67 73 70; V Singh (Fiji) 72 69 70 72. 284 M A Martin (Sp) 71 74 71 68; M Clayton (Aus) 70 73 72 69; P Way 72 72 71 69; B Lane 70 70 73 71; N Faldo 72 70 70 72; L Westwood 75 70 67 72; M Lanner (Swe) 70 70 69 75; M Roe 71 70 68 75. 285 R Davis (Aus) 70 73 74 68; J Coceres (Arg) 71 72 72 70; D Smyth 74 71 70 70; M McLean 75 70 70 70; A Forsbrand (Swe) 69 70 75 71; W Riley (Aus) 68 76 69 72. 286 G Brand Jnr 69 74 73 70; S Grappasonni (It) 72 71 69 74. 287 C Montgomerie 74 69 75 69; R Boxall 70 74 74 69; D Gilford 71 74 71 71; V Fernandez (Arg) 73 71 71 72; P Walton 76 68 71 72; R Goosen (SA) 72 73 70 72; D R Jones 69 71 74 73; A Binaghi (It) 72 71 71 73; J Rivero (Sp) 72 72 69 74; G J Brand 70 69 70 78. 288 R Rafferty 68 73 70 77. 289 P Teravainen (US) 70 69 78 72; R Allenby (Aus) 71 71 75 72; P Curry 70 74 73 72; J Bland (SA) 72 73 72 72; J Payne 71 74 70 74; P Mitchell 72 72 70 75. 290 T Levet (Fr) 71 73 73 73; D A Russell 72 71 73 74. 291 P Fulke (Swe) 72 67 74 78. 292 M Gates 73 71 76 72; A Oldcorn 75 67 75 75; C O'Connor Jnr 71 72 73 76; S Ames (Trin) 73 69 72 78. 293 D Curry 72 73 73 75; R Drummond 73 72 73 75; G Evans 74 69 74 76. 297 J McHenry 71 73 76 77; S Bowman (US) 72 71 76 78; J Rystrom (Swe) 76 69 72 80. 298 D Jones 70 74 72 82.

VOLVO EUROPEAN TOUR ORDER OF MERIT: 1 J-M Olazabal (Sp) 241,402.04, 2 E Els (SA) 188,230, 3 C Montgomerie (GB) 157,054.58, 4 S Ballesteros (Sp) 149,808.04, 5 B Langer (Ger) 122,438.75, 6 H Clark (GB) 102,768.22, 7 E Romero (Arg) 99,822.37, 8 P Eales (Eng) 97,536.39, 9 J Lomas (GB) 97,536.39, 10 A Forsbrand (Swe) 93,232, 11 M-A Jimenez (Sp) 93,087.89, 12 P Hedblom (Swe) 89,151.86, 13 P Price (GB) 88,906.88, 14 D Gilford (GB) 83,857.79, 15 N Faldo (GB) 80,730, 16 I Woosnam (GB) 80,000, 17 M Roe (GB) 77,552.04, 18 B Lane (GB) 75,580.31, 19 J Payne (GB) 74,133.27, 20 W Riley (Aus) 73,826.83.

(Photograph omitted)

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