Golf: Spaniards smile in the sleet: Olazabal's master class

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THE advertising campaign for the Tournoi Perrier de Paris features Seve Ballesteros lining up a putt for Jose-Maria Olazabal in the Ryder Cup in South Carolina three years ago. The image was mirrored at Saint Cloud yesterday and about the only difference is that the greens at Kiawah Island were four times as fast and the weather 10 times better.

'They'll have us playing in the Russian Open soon,' Ballesteros said. He and Olazabal are staying in a pounds 250- a-night hotel in Paris - as are their caddies, the Englishman, Billy Foster, and the Scotsman, Dave Renwick - but the new Masters champion said he had no time to celebrate. 'I've been sleeping most of the time,' Olazabal said. 'Alone?' Ballesteros asked.

Despite the fact that both have come hotfoot from Augusta to find that Saint Cloud in springtime is more like St Petersburg in winter, despite jet-lag and despite the fact they played in a pro-am with David Ginola, the Paris St-Germain footballer who hacked it all over the place, Seve and Olly came up smiling.

They dovetailed as effectively as if they were playing in the Ryder Cup, even though the Ryder Cup this most certainly is not. On the other hand, their financial rewards for appearing in this tournament are considerably greater than that on offer at the biennial match between Europe and the United States. When the posters were plastered all over Paris, the organisers did not know they would have two Masters champions in harness. Ballesteros and Olazabal are on the leaderboard at seven under par with a better-ball score of 63, five strokes adrift of a remarkable 58 posted by Peter Baker and D J Russell. If Russell had had a birdie at the last he would have had a personal score of 59.

Olazabal contributed four birdies, Ballesteros three. Their biggest problem was acclimatising to the weather - rain, wind, sleet - and the speed of the greens. After the Mach 2 of Augusta National they found themselves leaving the ball short. One of Olazabal's birdies came at the ninth where he drove into the trees and then hit a five-iron to five feet, a shot of such genius it had Ballesteros applauding.

Whereas the rivalry between, say, Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle was sharp and cool (you could not imagine those two playing together) the major achievement of Olazabal has been genuinely and warmly acknowledged by Ballesteros at a time when his own career has been in decline. Ballesteros, 37 last Saturday and cursed by back trouble, has not won since March 1992.

The Spaniard's pain is in the spine, where the muscles have been degenerating, but he still has ambition . . . and backbone. 'Things will change soon,' he said. 'There is a lot of golf to come from Seve because I want it. I want it very badly. I have never considered giving up. It's not a disaster. It's just two years of playing badly.'

He has taken possession of a new putter and he laughed at the suggestion that he might have paid for it. 'I never pay,' he said. 'The only thing I pay for is my underwear. Perhaps Jockey would like to sponsor me.' Ballesteros, who says Olazabal will be the player of the Nineties, has told Sergio Gomez, Olly's manager, to beware of men bearing chequebooks. Olazabal, who has won nearly half a million dollars in the last two weeks, does not do company days and he had no fixed schedule this year.

'Not one promoter approached us,' Gomez said. 'Colin (Montgomerie) was the new star. Everyone wanted Colin.' All that's changed. The first two offers, both hugely rewarding, came from the US PGA to play in the Grand Slam (limited to the four major winners) and the Johnnie Walker World Championship in Jamaica. The trouble with the Jamaica date is that it is in December and that is when Olazabal is in the hills above Fuenterrabia shooting game with his father.

Meanwhile, back in Gomez's office in San Sebastian the phone never stops ringing. They ask for Jose-Maria and instead get Maria-Josefa. Multi- lingual and educated at a convent in Exeter, Maria-Josefa is Gomez's 79-year-old mother.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 35