Golf: Hayes making a late name for himself

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AS A prelude to the US Open, the Buick Classic played its part to the extent of providing an unknown as the third round leader, writes Andy Farrell.

Since the event was reduced to 54 holes, J P Hayes, a 32-year-old from Texas, almost doubled his career earnings with his maiden first place cheque of $324,000 (pounds 216,000).

Hayes, a qualifying school graduate, beat Jim Furyk at the first extra hole. Furyk confirmed his position as a contender at Olympic Club this week but also re-affirmed his tendency towards top-tenitis: his last three finishes have been second, fourth and second, while he has not been worse than fourth in the last four majors.

Former Open champion Tom Lehman closed strongly with a 65 to finish third but from a European viewpoint the week, though soggy and frustrating at times, was still beneficial. "I have had the chance to make some chips out of the long rough when it mattered," Lee Westwood said.

The young Ryder Cup player, who finished six behind leading European Jesper Parnevik in 10th place, may have slipped from his usual place amongst the leaders but was not concerned. "I have got a few things to work on but I should be all right for next week. I can't wait to get to San Francisco."

Top of Nick Faldo's list of priorities will be his short game. "The key to Olympic will be getting the pace of the greens," he said. "I need to start making a few more from outside 10 feet. Some of those 20-footers have to start going in."

Perhaps the most benefit was gained by Jose Maria Olazabal, whose driving improved to the extent that he only missed six fairways in three rounds. "I drove the ball very well for my standards," the Spaniard said.

Olazabal has been working hard for some weeks to put into practice the wisdom of his mentor John Jacobs. "This was the first time I managed to feel the same way on the course as on the driving range," he said. "The trouble is that for so many years I was doing something different and it is hard to get rid of that feeling.''

What always baffles Olazabal watchers is the difference between the way he hits his long irons so confidently and the weakness of his driving. "When I hit my irons, I feel in control. At the top of the backswing it feels solid. But with my driver, it feels loose."

Despite the Olympic course measuring only 6,797 yards - short by modern standards - Olazabal is reluctant to rely on his one-iron this week.

"When I played there in '87, I found you still needed to hit a lot of drivers and three-woods,'' Olazabal said. ``The greens are so small that you want to play your approach shots with as short an iron as possible."