Golf / US Masters: No more fine messes for Master Olly: Seve told him he was the best and Jose-Maria Olazabal finally proved it. Tim Glover salutes an overdue triumph

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The Independent Online
THEY struggled manfully to get the name of Jose-Maria Olazabal on to the manual scoreboard in a rehearsal before the 58th Masters. With a bit of twisting and turning they finally succeeded and it was just as well. The name, after day one, was never off the leaderboard.

'You will never know how happy I am,' Olazabal said after giving one of the most determined performances in Masters history. This was make or break for the 28-year- old Spaniard and he finally kept an armada of Americans at bay to win his first major championship. Nobody thinks it will be his last. Olazabal was so distraught after missing out to Ian Woosnam at Augusta National in 1991 that he thought of packing the game in. Olly was in a fine old mess.

On that occasion his aggregate was 278, a stroke behind Woosnam. On Sunday evening he won by two shots from Tom Lehman, by three from Larry Mize and by four from Tom Kite with the rest making up the numbers. Olazabal's aggregate was 279 and after a 74 in the first round his scoring was peerless. He had just two bogeys over the final 56 holes; he played the last 49 holes in 11 under par and the significance of the figures is that Nick Faldo, twice a winner here, said that the course was at its toughest.

Only 13 players shot par or better compared to 25 the previous year. Four days of almost uninterrupted sunshine meant that the greens were faster than ever and that, combined with imaginative pin placements, made Augusta National a test of patience and skill. It produced a true champion. Olazabal, the winner of 18 tournaments worldwide, felt that he was fulfilling his destiny and a member at his home club in San Sebastian is going to feel very foolish.

Olazabal was brought up on the golf course where his parents were employed, his father the greenkeeper, his mother the cook, bottlewasher and toilet attendant. On one occasion he took his mother on to the course to play nine holes and a member drove a ball over their heads and played through. As he passed them he reminded Mrs Olazabal of her station in life and Jose-Maria vowed then to return one day with a major trophy.

Sergio Gomez, his manager and mentor, struck up a friendship with Olazabal after being beaten by him, by a stroke, in the club championship. Gomez, with a handicap of 11, posted a net score of 71 and Olazabal, playing off one, had a net 70. When Olazabal, whose previous wins in America were the World Series in 1990 and The International in 1991, arrived at Augusta National he found a note in his locker.

'Just try to be patient,' it said. 'You know exactly how to play the golf course. You're the greatest golfer in the world. Good luck.' The message was from Seve Ballesteros, his Ryder Cup partner and tomorrow he will be reunited with his compatriot for a foursomes tournament in Paris.

Olazabal was being described as the most talented player not to win a major but virtually everything here was in his favour. After finding a driver which not only increased his accuracy off the tee but also his length, a crucial factor at Augusta National, he was primed to take his vengeance out on the course. He had won the Mediterranean Open in Spain and was second in New Orleans a week ago.

His intense ambition sometimes got the better of him and in the course of establishing a unique amateur record - he won the British Boys', Youths and the Amateur Championship in the early 1980s - he was reprimanded by officials of the R & A for intimidatory tactics.

Olazabal, who turned professional in 1985 after winning at the Qualifying School, was in the perfect position to receive the Green Jacket from Bernhard Langer, going into the final round one stroke behind Lehman. He could not eat his breakfast on Sunday morning and Gomez compared his mood to that of a matador before entering the bullring. Nevertheless, Olazabal was supremely confident and had even taken the trouble to shave. He was ready for the presentation.

Europeans have won six of the last seven Masters. An American asked Olazabal why Europe's record was so good. He replied that to negotiate Augusta National safely you need imagination. The implication, of course, is that by and large the modern American tour professional does not have the inspiration or the nous to fit into a Green Jacket.

Lehman, a 35-year-old Californian who has never won a tournament on the US Tour, gave Olazabal a run for his money and over the closing holes three putts for birdies shaved the cup. 'I hit a lot of good shots,' Lehman, joint third in the Masters 12 months ago, said. 'I just didn't capitalise.'

The crucial hole was the 15th. Olazabal's approach shot cleared the pond, just, and from the front fringe the Spaniard rolled in a putt from about 30 feet for an eagle three to go to 10 under par for the championship. 'Great putt,' Lehman said quietly to Olazabal. Later he would describe it as being like a 'stab at the heart'.

Lehman had hit a magnificent shot into the heart of the same green and he had a 15-foot putt to match Olazabal's eagle. For all the world it looked as if he would make the putt, but the ball did not drop. Lehman sank to his knees.

Olazabal had applied the coup de grace and although he had a rare bogey at the 17th he could finally afford to be generous. When he safely made four at the 18th he pumped the air 10 times with his right fist. When he put on the jacket he raised both arms and gave V for victory signs. All that was missing was a bulldog and a large cigar.

While Olazabal basked in the glory, Greg Norman, the hot favourite, was making a hurried exit from a course that once again got the better of him. He shot 77 and finished 13 strokes behind Olazabal. Norman made a detour to the bar.

'Give me a beer for every bogey I've made,' he said to the barman. He put cans of beer into a plastic carrier bag and helped himself to loads of ice. 'I may as well be a barman, I've done nothing else this week,' he said to anybody and nobody. 'I thought I was a patient man but this course . . . Jeez.' The world No 1 gave Arthur the barman his black stetson with the shark logo and a dollars 50 tip. 'See you next year,' Norman said.

(Photograph omitted)