Golf: Olazabal clings to his dream

Completion of an amazing journey is near as the Spaniard holds his nerve
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JOSE MARIA Olazabal, who at one point feared he would never walk again, and Greg Norman, who underwent the same shoulder reconstruction surgery performed on Major League baseball pitchers, will play together in the final round of the 63rd US Masters today. While Olazabal will be hoping for a second green jacket after his victory at Augusta in 1994, Norman will once again put himself at the mercy of a course that has humbled the Australian so often.

"Having a chance to win again tomorrow, it will be a great day for both of us," Norman said. "When you are out of the game you wonder if you will ever get back into it. Jose and I are friends from way back. I kept in touch with him while he was having his foot problems, and he was one of the few players to call me after my shoulder surgery."

Fitting in with the theme of this year's tournament, the most remarkable performance of the third round came from Steve Pate, who missed a year's golf through injury, but yesterday set a new Augusta record of seven birdies in a row.

A calm, breathless morning could not have been better for those playing catch up and although Lee Westwood took advantage by producing his lowest score at Augusta - 68 - Pate, his playing partner, shot a 65 to move to five under.

But later, on another hot and humid Georgian afternoon, the leaders did not have it so easy. Olazabal did not pick up his first birdie until the 15th hole. Frustrated at not seeing as many of his putts fall as on the first two days, the Spaniard's determination was his strongest ally. A poor drive at the last - "that was ugly," he gasped on the tee - Olazabal played a brilliant second through the trees but, typically, just missed the putt.

A round of 73 nevertheless meant he maintained the leading position he held overnight. "Actually I'm pretty pleased with a 73 the way I putted" he said. "It was a tough day but I managed to hang on." With a 71, Norman moved to within one stroke, but only thanks to birdies at the 15th and 18th. Augusta seemed to have taken him for Shark meat again when his ball was lost in the foliage behind the 12th green.

Returning to the tee after an increasingly frantic search, Norman hit his next to 30 feet before holing the putt for a bogey four and throwing the ball away in disgust. "All I was thinking," Norman said, "was `find the effing ball. I'll give anyone $500 if they can find it'."

It is anything but a two-horse race, though. Nine of the 15 players within five of the lead are major champions. Davis Love was tied with Pate at five under, with Lee Janzen and Ernie Els one further back.

The group at three under has Nick Price and Steve Elkington, as well as Colin Montgomerie, and those on two under include Tiger Woods and Bernhard Langer, as well as Westwood. Also under par were Mark O'Meara, Justin Leonard and David Duval.

Montgomerie, who shot a 71, was another to fall foul of the 12th, setting off back-to-back bogeys, but he got up and down from the bunker at 15 for a birdie. "Any day you start six off the lead and finish four behind is a good day," the Scot said. "Tomorrow is a very important day for me. A 68 could win. I'll have to watch what is going on and be sensible. Sometimes you can't go for it but you can also be sensible and find trouble. It is very, very difficult."

Fitting in with the theme of the week, Pate has had his share of injuries. He could not play in the Ryder Cup singles at Kiawah Island in 1991 after he injured abdominal muscles in a limo shunt. But he was involved in a far more serious car crash in 1996, running into a lorry at 75mph, breaking his right wrist. Six months later he fractured it again when he was knocked off his bicycle by a deer that was being chased by his dog.

Third in 1991, this was his first appearance at Augusta for six years. The 37-year-old, sometimes known as "Volcano", had already birdied the third when he erupted from the seventh, where he holed from eight feet.

A 20-footer followed at the next and then he hit a nine-iron to 18 inches at the ninth. Out in 32, he then birdied the 10th, with a curling 50-footer, and the 11th, from 20 feet, before he faced the tricky short 12th. With the pin just over the front bunker, Pate's tee shot was dead on line before pulling up a foot short of the hole. "That was a shock," Pate said. "I hit it solid, but it could have been anywhere from the water to the azaleas at the back. Any time you are on the green at 12 you are lucky."

Now he had equalled the previous record at Augusta of six in a row held by Johnny Miller, Mark Calcavecchia and David Toms. With the 485-yard 13th not playing as long as it can, Pate could not have asked for a better hole at which to attempt to set the new record, and he took advantage by hitting a sand wedge to six feet and then holing the putt.

"I have no explanation for what happened," he said. "It seemed easy. I didn't have any idea about the record but when I made the seventh one I did think I might be making history."

Westwood, still suffering a cold he picked up earlier in the week, came home in 33 with birdies at the 13th, 15th and 17th for a 68, the first time he had broken 70 at Augusta. "That's what I set out to do," said Westwood. "Sometimes it's awkward when the other player is holding everything and you are not," Westwood said. "But it can also drag you along."