Golf: Olazabal appears serene in green

The Masters verdict: Relaxed Spaniard dedicates second success to family and the doctor who helped him play again

GREG NORMAN has had his share of 18th-hole hugs at Augusta. Jose Maria Olazabal's embrace of the Australian after winning the 63rd US Masters followed a similar gesture by Nick Faldo three years ago. "Jose is a lot thinner," Norman said when asked to compare the two experiences. Olazabal's victory, his second at Augusta which meant Mark O'Meara helped the Spaniard into his own green jacket, complete with the mis-spelling of his name on the inside label ("Olazabel"), was a truly emotional moment. Not least when Ollie was asked what he would do on returning home. Tears intervened before he could reply: "I will embrace my family, for sure."

He added: "I am happy for myself but also all my family and friends who supported me through the bad times. To be here with the green jacket is an achievement I couldn't dream about when I was at my lowest." That was in the summer of 1996 when he could barely walk. A proud and private individual, the 33 year old withdrew from the world, even from his family who live in the same house on the Royal San Sebastian course where his grandfather and then father were the greenkeeper. "The situation was so bad that there was nothing even my parents or sister could say to cheer me up," he said. "I would not wish it on anyone. I just tried to hang on to hope."

That hope arrived in the form of a Munich doctor, Hans-Wilhelm Muller- Wohlfahrt, who found the answer to Olazabal's foot trouble was in a vertebrae problem in his lower back. "Part of this victory goes to him," Ollie said. "Without him I would not be here. He did a wonderful job.

"I will enjoy this victory more than the first one because of everything that has happened. The most positive thing to come out of all my problems is that I appreciate things in life more, things like just being able to go out and enjoy the weather or the scenery or being on a golf course."

As they played in the final pairing of Sunday's round, Norman detected a serenity in the Spaniard that he recognised as something he came to appreciate during his nine-month lay-off due to a shoulder surgery last year. "He looked in control," Norman said. "At times it didn't feel like the final round of the Masters. He made it look that easy.

"I wish I had this fresh approach to life 20 years ago. It has helped my golf. In 1996, what I was feeling on Sunday night was 99 per cent disappointment. Tonight it is 20 per cent disappointment and 80 per cent success at having a chance to win again. That's the bit you miss."

Norman received a huge roar from the gallery when he eagled the 13th, but Olazabal made his birdie to stay tied for the lead. "We looked at each other and we both understood," Olazabal said of their exchange of gestures. Norman bogeyed the next two while Olazabal hit a six-iron to three feet at the 16th and holed for birdie. "It was only three feet but you can't imagine how difficult it was," he said.

There remained a superb second shot at the 17th and a 7ft par-putt which maintained his two-stroke lead going to the last. That was his winning margin over Davis Love, the runner-up for the second time. Norman, one further back in third, finished in the top-three for the sixth time at Augusta.

"Of course I wanted to win, but at the same time I believe Greg deserves a green jacket as much as anyone else," said Olazabal, who told the Australian as much in the recorder's hut. "I was impressed when he waited for me to share the walk up the 18th and it was nice what he said afterwards," Norman said. "Jose is a good person. He cares about the people around him."

Olazabal has, however, sometimes lacked confidence in his own abilities, although his precise iron play and magical short game have given him a superb record at Augusta. But he only really believed in himself when Gary Player took him aside at last Tuesday's champions' dinner. "He looked at me with those eyes of his and kept saying that I needed to believe in myself. The determination in his words and the way he said them helped me a lot."

Olazabal's victory was the first in a major by a European for three years. While it has absolutely no significance regarding Europe's chances in the Ryder Cup in Boston in September, the tournament has had an effect on the European qualifying table.

Ollie should not need to be picked as a wild card as he has so often in the past, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam picked up useful points and Lee Westwood went a long way to joining Colin Montgomerie as a guaranteed qualifier.

In getting himself into a share of the lead as he stood on the 10th tee, Westwood can now be said to have contended for a major for the first time. That he immediately dropped four shots on three of the hardest holes on the course was partially compensated by his finish. A round of 71 meant he outplayed partner Tiger Woods by four strokes and left the 25 year old tied for sixth.

"There is no doubt in my mind after today that I can win a major," Westwood said. "It was nice to get into a position to win for the first time. Obviously, the 10th, 11th and 12th were disappointing but to be two-under from there on was pleasing. I enjoyed every minute of it out there. They say the Masters does not begin until the back nine on Sunday and you don't realise how true that is until you stand on the hill at 11 overlooking Amen Corner. I have to admit my stomach was in knots."

From tee to green Woods coped well with a course that was meant to be Tiger-proofed but he had even less luck on the greens than Montgomerie usually has, which is saying something. The other man whom all the build up was about, the world No 1, David Duval, did make a last-day charge. His 70 was the lowest score of the day but, after going in the pond at 11, he could not quite set a target to trouble the leaders.

Asked if the expectations had been too high at the start of the week for a man who had won the previous two tournaments, Duval replied: "No, but it is never a good bet to pick one player to win. I'd take the field against your player and I'll win more often, even if you pick me. I came in playing well and thinking well, but I failed to put it all together."

THE EUROPEAN MASTERS

Jose Maria Olazabal's victory on Sunday night was the 11th by a European player in the event over the past 20 years.

The parade of champions is:

1980 - Seve Ballesteros

1983 - Seve Ballesteros

1985 - Bernhard Langer

1988 - Sandy Lyle

1989 - Nick Faldo

1990 - Nick Faldo

1991 - Ian Woosnam

1993 - Bernhard Langer

1994 - Jose Maria Olazabal

1996 - Nick Faldo

1999 - Jose Maria Olazabal

FINAL SCORES FROM AUGUSTA

F Couples 74 71 76 71

(US unless stated; *denotes amateur)

280

J M Olazabal (Sp) 70 66 73 71

282

D Love 69 72 70 71

283

G Norman (Aus) 71 68 71 73

284

B Estes 71 72 69 72

S Pate 71 75 65 73

285

D Duval 71 74 70 70

P Mickelson 74 69 71 71

L Westwood (GB) 75 71 68 71

N Price (Zim) 69 72 72 72

C Franco (Par) 72 72 68 73

287

B Langer (Ger) 76 66 72 73

S Elkington (Aus) 72 70 71 74

C Montgomerie (GB) 70 72 71 74

288

B Jobe 72 71 74 71

I Woosnam (GB) 71 74 71 72

J Furyk 72 73 70 73

L Janzen 70 69 73 76

289

B Chamblee 69 73 75 72

J Leonard 70 72 73 74

B Glasson 72 70 73 74

T Woods 72 72 70 75

S McCarron 69 68 76 76

290

L Mize 76 70 72 72

291

V Singh (Fiji) 72 76 71 72

P-U Johansson (Swe) 75 72 71 73

B Faxon 74 73 68 76

292R Mediate 73 74 69 76

S Cink 74 70 71 77

E Els (SA) 71 72 69 80

293

S Maruyama (Japan) 78 70 71 74

T Lehman 73 72 73 75

B Watts 73 73 70 77

J Sluman 70 75 70 78

M O'Meara 70 76 69 78

294

A Magee 70 77 72 75

J Huston 74 72 71 77

295

M Brooks 76 72 75 72

*S Garcia (Sp) 72 75 75 73

B Andrade 76 72 72 75

R Floyd 74 73 72 76

C Stadler 72 76 70 77

S Stricker 75 72 69 79

297

J Haas 74 69 79 75

*T McKnight 73 74 73 77

T Herron 75 69 74 79

S Hoch 75 73 70 79

298

C Parry (Aus) 75 73 73 77

S Lyle (GB) 71 77 70 80

299

*M Kuchar 77 71 73 78

C Perry 73 72 74 80

300

B Tway 75 73 78 74

P Stewart 73 75 77 75

O Browne 74 74 72 80

J Daly 72 76 71 81

305

*T Immelman (SA) 72 76 78 79

Leading positions in the European Ryder Cup table after the Masters: 1 C Montgomerie (Sco) 6,480.84pts; 2 J M Olazabal (Sp) 6,173.54; 3 L Westwood (Eng) 4,216.08; 4 M A Jimenez (Sp) 3,819.81; 5 D Clarke (N Ire) 3,485.49; 6 S Struver (Ger) 2,660.40; 7 A Cejka (Ger) 2,634.94; 8 D Howell (Eng) 2,608.80; 9 B Langer (Ger) 2,347.53; 10 A Coltart (Sco) 2,328.93. 11 R Karlsson (Swe) 2,322.57; 12 P Sjoland (Swe) 2,154.37; 13 J Sandelin (Swe) 2,090.15; 14 S Webster (Eng) 1,978.50; 15 J Bickerton (Eng) 1,973.09; 16 P McGinley (Rep Irl) 1,715.53; 17 P Lawrie (Sco) 1,611.48; 18 M James (Eng) 1,600.27; 19 P Fulke (Swe) 1,570.11; 20 P-U Johansson (Swe) 1,539.28.

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