Golf: Mason's memorable end to his 20-year odyssey: A 40-year-old journeyman celebrates long-awaited victory

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HE THREW the ball into the crowd, punched the air, embraced his caddie and then, in a futile attempt to hide his emotions, covered his eyes. In doing so Carl Mason got his hands wet and under the circumstances his reaction was understandable. It had taken the journeyman 20 years to arrive.

Mason, who is 40, joined the European Tour in 1974 when he won the grand total of pounds 2,338. The previous year he had won the British Youths' Amateur Championship, but apart from the odd victory in Africa he was recognised as the nearly man. Six times a runner-up in Europe, never a winner. Nice guy, they said of Mason. Finishes second.

Not any more. He won the Turespana Masters at the Jack Nicklaus designed Montecastillo course here yesterday, holding off two proven winners in Jose-Maria Olazabal and Gordon Brand Jnr in the final round. When Mason holed the winning putt he admitted: 'I could hardly see the ball for the tears.' It took them five and a half hours to get round (the Tour's ideal is 4hr 11min) but Mason, the son of the professional at Goring and Streatley, will savour, in hindsight, almost every minute of it. 'On the 17th I thought I was going to mess it up. Every time I've been up there I've made a complete mess of it. I suppose I was known as the player who never quite does it.'

Mason, the joint leader at eight under par after the third round, had a bogey six at the third, where he three putted, and a bogey five at the 17th, also the result of three putts. In between he had four birdies and it was his play at the sixth and seventh that finally convinced him that his time had come. At the sixth he hit a three-iron approach from 174 yards to 30 feet and sank the putt; at the seventh he hit a one- iron into the wind from 200 yards, over a lake to the small part of the green. Mason, who has modified his putting style after watching videos of Bobby Jones, rolled in the putt, also from around 30 feet, for another birdie three. 'I thought I was going to have a heart attack,' he said. 'But I also told myself that if I can hit a one-iron like that I shouldn't be afraid of anything.'

Mason, who won pounds 50,535, shot 70 to finish at 10 under par, two strokes in front of Olazabal and three in front of Brand Jnr, both of whom scored level-par 72s. Olazabal, who has not won for two years, took some of the heat off Mason with two bogeys in the last four holes. On a blustery day when only two players broke 70, par was respectable. Not, however, to Olazabal. 'I'm more disappointed in my game than in not winning,' he said.

Seve Ballesteros, who began the day five strokes off the lead in an event promoted by his own company, Amen Corner, made an inspired start with birdies at the first two holes. He drove into a bunker at the first and nearly holed out from there for an eagle two. There were flashes of brilliance spiced with sand and water; almost vintage Ballesteros. He went to the turn in 34 with five birdies, a bogey, a double bogey and two pars.

At that point he was in striking distance but the flame was extinguished with a triple-bogey six at the short 14th where he pushed his tee shot on to a road and went into the trees. It took him four strokes to find the green. Perhaps Ballesteros's concentration was wavering. He had a deadline to meet, an early evening kick-off in the football match between Seville and his home club, Santander. At the 17th he put his approach into a lake and that cost him a double-bogey six. 'It's a pity,' he said. 'I started so well and I played well. I only hit three bad shots.'

Sandy Lyle, who has been in retreat even longer than Ballesteros, has showed signs of a return to a more settled existence. The Masters champion of 1988 shot 71 yesterday, one under par for the day, one under for the championship. But for a couple of aberrations he would have appeared on the leader board.

In the third round Lyle, hitting a one-iron off the tee at the 18th hole, smacked it more than 300 yards but his ball hit the cart path (a dreaded American invention) and took a dive into the swimming pool in front of the hotel that lies to the right of the 18th. The ball (Lyle's balls should wear a lifebelt) settled at the deep end and, despite an offer from his caddie to jump in and retrieve it, Lyle opted for a penalty drop.

He took a double-bogey six. Had he retrieved the ball he would have been entitled, on the grounds that the pool was, under the rules of golf, an immovable obstruction and not out of bounds, to have taken a free drop and he would probably have been two strokes better off.

Lyle was making good progress (three birdies on the front nine followed by an eagle and another birdie) until he came to the 15th. He hit his drive on to a cart path and ricocheted into dense undergrowth. He should have played out sideways but he chose to go forwards, succeeding only in burying the ball in an even denser part of Jerez. The ball was never seen again and the result was a triple-bogey seven. 'It seems that every time I make a mistake I get hammered,' Lyle lamented.

TURESPANA MASTERS (Jerez): Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 278 C Mason 67 70 71 70. 280 J-M Olazabal (Sp) 69 68 71 72. 281 G Brand Jnr 71 69 69 72. 282 P-U Johansson (Swe) 69 72 71 70. 283 M Jiminez (Spain) 70 73 72 68. 284 I Palmer (SA) 69 71 72 72; J Townsend (US) 67 74 71 72; R Drummond 69 69 73 73; P Teravainen (US) 70 73 68 73. 285 P Bates (US) 71 68 77 69; J Payne 67 69 75 74; R McFarlane 68 70 73 74; J Coceres (Arg) 70 72 69 74; P Fowler (Aus) 67 68 75 75. 286 R Chapman 68 74 72 72; D R Jones 75 66 71 74; M Roe 72 70 70 74. 287 S Grappasonni (It) 73 69 74 71; S Lyle 74 70 72 71; P Eales 72 68 75 72; R Willison 72 72 71 72; S Ballesteros (Sp) 70 71 72 74; D Williams 71 72 70 74; E Romero (Arg) 68 75 70 74.

EUROPEAN TOUR ORDER OF MERIT: 1 E Els (SA) pounds 83,100; 2 A Forsbrand (Swe) pounds 66,760; 3 P Hedblom (Swe) pounds 63,425; 4 C Mason pounds 59,949; 5 H Clark pounds 57,520; 6 P Eales pounds 51,875; 7 M Lanner (Swe) pounds 46,980; 8 D Gilford pounds 46,308; 9 B Langer (Ger) pounds 41,812; 10 J-M Olazabal (Sp) pounds 38,225.