Golf: Ryder Cup - Olazabal ready for magic putter after timely swing in form

Ken Jones at The Ryder Cup
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The Independent Online
On his debut in the Ryder Cup 10 years ago, Jose Maria Olazabal had the air of a gifted, imaginative boy considered to be the game's next genius.

A pretty safe bet was that the young Spaniard would become one of golf's great figures. Olazabal didn't smile a lot but he couldn't be faulted in matters of technique and temperament.

When Olazabal won the Masters in 1994, recovering finally from the effect of a bogey at the last that set up Ian Woosnam's victory three years earlier, it was thought to be the first of many majors.

Despite the career-threatening foot ailment that caused his absence from the match two years ago, Olazabal's record of 12 Ryder Cup victories is bettered by only four members of the present European team, the non-playing captain, Severiano Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernard Langer and Ian Woosnam, who have made many more appearances.

Since Olazabal was sure of being chosen as one of the captain's two wild cards, the saga of Miguel Martin's injury had no bearing on the announcement that he will partner Costantino Rocca in today's top fourball against Davis Love and Phil Mickelson.

When he and Nacho Garrido were asked how they would feel about forming a national alliance, Olazabal said: "We're playing in Spain and everybody would like us to play together, but it's also that it would put additional pressure on us."

Olazabal wasn't up to the mark in the British Masters last week but he appears to have made considerable improvement. In practice on Wednesday he was five under for seven holes. "My game's better," he said. "I've been working on trying to clear a few things up and get the right ideas."

The best idea resulted from a conversation with Ballesteros, who suggested that an adjustment to Olazabal's shoulder turn would square up the club face at impact. "It's pretty simple," Olazabal said, "but it's good to achieve."

Early this year, Olazabal had more hope than conviction. "When I began in Dubai it barely crossed my mind that I'd get a chance to play in the Ryder Cup. So I'm very happy right now. After the 18 months of hell I've been through, being here as part of the team - being with team-mates from years ago - is very special."

Doubtless, one of the things that influenced Olazabal's selection for this morning's matches is his reputation with the putter. In this department, the Spaniard's form varies only between good and brilliant. A widespread point of view is that if a European player was needed to putt for your life the wisest choice would be Olazabal or Colin Montgomerie.

As with most events in golf, putting has figured decisively in the Ryder Cup. Rocca's missed putt when two up with one to play against Davis Love at The Belfry in 1993 turned things in favour of the Americans. Langer's missed putt on the 18th at Kiawah in 1991 when the scores were tied gave the United States victory. Curtis Strange will always be haunted by bogeying the final three holes at Oak Hill two years ago, but it took a cool putt by Faldo to finish him and open the door for Europe.

Worrying for Europe this week is that the US have, in Faldo's words, "some seriously good putters." Three much admired putters on the US Tour - Brad Faxon, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson - are lined up against them. Faxon's mastery of the art persuaded even Tiger Woods to seek some advice from him. Apparently Woods is troubled by the feeling that he seldom putts well until the final round of a tournament.