Golf: Olazabal's disbelief over win

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The Independent Online
MAKE no mistake about what Jose-Maria Olazabal would have done if you had suggested he was going to the win the Dubai Desert Classic a few moments before he teed off last Thursday.

"I would have said you were crazy," Olazabal described. "I would have smash you in the face and said: `kid, wake up'."

At the time, Olazabal had a temperature of 102 degrees and was busy ignoring the advice of a doctor to withdraw from the tournament. Yesterday a closing round of 68, four under par in high desert winds, gave the 32-year-old Spaniard a three-stroke victory over the young Australian, Stephen Allan.

"I am shocked at what I have done," Olazabal said. In contrast to his contracting waistline, Ollie found his wallet expanding by pounds 130,000. His last meal of some substance - fish to be precise - was last Wednesday evening.

"I have been surviving on fruit juices, yoghurts, soups and tea," he said. "I never expected to win. The first two days were the worst, every single muscle ached. The last two days it was just the throat but I still felt weak this morning."

It was in the desert a year ago that Olazabal, the 1994 US Masters champion, resumed his career after an 18-month break due to his foot injuries. Then he just wanted to test himself in competition and finished 12th. Two events later he won in the Canaries.

"The win in the Canaries was very special for me, but taking into account my condition and the field this week, this is my best since 1994."

Here the big names were massed behind the third round leader Robert Karlsson - Ernie Els, Ian Woosnam, Greg Norman, Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie and Seve Ballesteros all finished in the top 10 - but it was Olazabal whose patience survived the conditions best.

"I never put myself under any pressure," Olazabal said. "It was not until the 13th that I thought I had a chance to win. Before that I was playing my own game. I didn't care about the other guys." What happened at the par-five 13th was that Olazabal holed his sand wedge shot from 77 yards for an eagle two.

Suddenly he found himself in the lead and Karlsson, who closed with a 75 to share third place with Els, was not the biggest danger. Instead, Allan, a 24-year-old from Melbourne, had become the closest challenger by making five birdies between the 11th and the 17th, where he chipped in.

Attempting to make another at the par-five last, Allan tried to cross the water in front of the green with his second shot and took a six. "I figured I needed a birdie at the last to tie," Allan said. "I never really contemplated not going for it." Moments later Olazabal himself birdied the hole to reach a 19-under total of 269 and move second in the money list to Els.

It also completed a satisfying mathematical progression after finishing third in the Heineken Classic and second in the Greg Norman International in his last two competitions.