Golf: Olazabal unable to keep up with Faxon

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The Independent Online
The longest day of Jose Maria Olazabal's short comeback to tournament golf began well enough when the Spaniard completed a third round 67 in the Freeport McDermott Classic. But inevitably weary by the end, Olazabal closed with a final round 72, to fall six behind the winner, Brad Faxon.

Olazabal gave himself plenty of chances on the English Turn greens, but bogeys at two of the last four holes, only his fifth and sixth dropped shots of the week, left him at 10 under and joint seventh. Faxon, the 35-year-old from Rhode Island, who has been chosen by Colin Montgomerie to guide the Scot through the mysteries of the Augusta National greens in a practice round on Tuesday, was the one converting the putts.

Faxon, who had not won for five years on the US tour, birdied the last two holes of his third round and then extended his lead with three birdies in the first six holes in the afternoon. Jesper Parnevik, who tied second with Bill Glasson three behind Faxon, secured his sixth top-five finish on the US tour this year by claiming 10 birdies in the 24 holes he played. He closed with a 66 in which his only bogey came from a three-putt at the 14th.

This was the first time in the four events Olazabal has played since returning to the tour that he has faced playing 27 holes in one day. Considering the hilly nature of the Augusta course he will have to trample during this week's US Masters, it was not ideal preparation. "I would have preferred to play only 18 holes and I am flying to Augusta today so it will tiring for next week," he said.

Olazabal's day began at 4.45am, which felt like an hour earlier as America moved to daylight saving time on Saturday night. He had nine holes to finish from his third round after heavy storms, which were accompanied by a tornado warning, prevented play until late in the afternoon. Over an inch and a half of rain fell in 45 minutes to make the English Turn course welcomingly soft.

The Basque was not the only one to take advantage of the easier conditions. Playing the back nine, he made the turn in 33, despite leaving two birdie putts on the lip of the hole, when play was suspended. Resuming yesterday morning, Olazabal quickly went further under par with a birdie, after twice finding sand. At the sixth, he had to hole from eight feet to save par, but at the short eighth, he rolled in a 40-footer to get to 10 under par.

"The weakest part of my game before I came here was my driving, and though I drove very well in the second round, I drove poorly all this round, " he said. "I only hit one fairway with my driver in nine holes last night, and missed the fairway the four times I used it this morning. It's very difficult to get the ball close to the hole when you are playing out of the rough."

Before his 18-month absence from the game when he could hardly walk, Olazabal finished in the top-10 in his last two American events in August 1995. His comeback has seen the 31-year-old finish 12th in Dubai, fourth in Portugal and first in the Canaries.

Greg Norman, ahead of what promises to be an eventful Masters week for him, closed with a 68. On Saturday night he had taken a nine at the par- five 15th when the Shark, who became the first golfer to be interviewed on the CBS documentary programme 60 Minutes last night, twice found the water.

FREEPORT-MCDERMOTT CLASSIC (English Turn, New Orleans) Leading final scores (US unless stated): 272 B Faxon 68 69 66 69. 275 B Glasson 71 72 66 66; J Parnevik (Swe) 72 69 68 66. 276 K Triplett 72 68 64 72, S McCarron 65 69 71 71. 277 R Cochran 70 71 67 69. 278 Y Kaneko (Japan) 69 74 69 66; S Lowery 72 71 66 69; J M Olazabal (Sp) 72 67 67 72; T Tolles 74 71 66 67. 279 S Hoch 68 72 72 67; M Dawson 69 73 69 68; J Edwards 72 71 67 69; D Love 69 71 70 69; S Pate 70 73 67 69; M Christie 70 67 71 71; L Rinker 65 69 72 73. 280 S Elkington (Aus) 71 72 69 68; P Jacobsen 70 71 70 69. 281 M Standly 70 74 68 69, J Kelly 69 73 66 73. 282 G Norman (Aus) 67 74 73 68; P Blackmar 72 71 70 69; B Tway 68 72 72 70; P Jordan 72 70 70 70; B Mayfair 68 72 67 75. 283 M Brooks 70 74 69 70; B McCallister 71 75 67 70; D Sutherland 72 70 73 68; L Wadkins 69 69 72 73.