Golf: Olazabal has a ball

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The Independent Online
THE 54-year-old Jack Nicklaus started the ball rolling by telling everybody to stop worrying about the 36-year-old Seve Ballesteros. He'll win a lot more tournaments, Jack said of Seve. 'He's got plenty of time.' Yesterday Ballesteros passed to the 28-year-old Jose-Maria Olazabal, announcing that his younger compatriot is . . . well, young and has time on his side.

'He's got big potential,' Ballesteros said of Olazabal for the umpteenth time. 'It's a surprise to me that he hasn't won more often. He should be patient.' Olazabal, Ballesteros's Ryder Cup sidekick, won his last tournament - it happened to be in Spain - two years ago to the day. Today he is in a position to win the Turespana Masters at the Montecastillo golf resort. This is one of the 106 courses that Nicklaus has designed (he is also promoting it as the venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup) but he does not often make the mistake of playing his own blueprints. He lets others suffer.

This week Big Jack followed his bear prints and missed the halfway cut, as did his taller son, Big Jackie Jnr. However, another son, Gary, survived, which meant that Air Bear, the Nicklaus family jet, has had to hang around here until the conclusion of the tournament this evening. Gary shot 74 in the third round, his progress monitored by Jack and Jackie, but at least they went out when the weather was benign. When the leaders came in last night they looked as if they had been playing in the Cairngorms.

'Seve's a bit tired and wet and will answer only three questions in Spanish and English,' an interpreter said, in English and Spanish. Ballesteros - who is promoting his own course, Nova Sancti Petri near Cadiz, to host the Ryder Cup - has gone round here in 70, 71 and 72 and if that looks progressively worse it is substantially better than almost any sequence he managed last year, when the pain in Spain was running down his back. 'I still have to improve a lot,' he said, 'especially my short game.'

At three under par for the tournament Ballesteros is five strokes off the lead. Olazabal, who seems to have been in a permanent sulk since blowing a chance of winning the Masters at Augusta in 1991, usually spends the winter shooting doves in the north of Spain. The reason he has been shooting birdies here this week is that he put his gun away and has been practising with Amaya Arruti. She won the Italian Women's Open last year and is the niece of Olazabal's former coach Jesus Arruti.

Arruti learnt his golf from John Jacobs, a master tutor and former Ryder Cup captain who, by coincidence, has been at Montecastillo this week. By an even bigger coincidence he has been giving Olazabal tuition - don't ground your club at address of the ball, that sort of stuff - and it seems to have worked. Olazabal shot 71 yesterday and shares the lead at eight under par for the championship with the Englishman Carl Mason, one stroke in front of Gordon Brand Jnr and two ahead of Peter Fowler.