Golf / US Masters: Olazabal ends his long wait for Major win: Spaniard retains his composure to strike with the precision of a matador and maintain European superiority at Augusta

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JOSE-MARIA OLAZABAL won the 58th Masters yesterday, receiving the Green Jacket from Bernhard Langer and thus maintaining a proud European tradition in the Augusta National rag trade. Not only was he the youngest winner since his compatriot Seve Ballesteros but also the sixth European to win the most American of tournaments in the last seven years.

The 28-year-old Olazabal - Ballesteros was 23 when he won here in 1980 - has waited three long years for this, his first major triumph. He won here with a vengeance, a drive born from his runner-up spot to Ian Woosnam in 1991. Olazabal had a bogey five at the 18th in the final round, then after driving into the left-hand bunker and did not forgive himself. He put the record straight yesterday.

Olazabal began the day - another fine, sunny old Southern day - one stroke off the lead which was held by Tom Lehman. Olazabal drew level with the 35-year-old Californian at the eighth and took the lead at the 12th, the little Golden Bell. Lehman, who has never won a tournament on the US PGA Tour, did not back off an inch. True, he backed off a couple of feet at the 12th where he had a bogey four but he was desperately unfortunate over the closing holes.

Three times putts for birdies shaved the hole; three times he dropped to his knees. In the morning he had given the service at a local Methodist church and it was particularly cruel that he should lose the lead in the middle of the trinity of holes known as Amen Corner.

Olazabal, who had scored 74, 67 and 69, finished with a 69 and won by two strokes. He spent Saturday evening watching the film Star Trek, The Next Generation. Appropriate really for a player described by Ballesteros as the best in the world. Olazabal has been a new player since winning the Mediterranean Open last month followed by a second place in New Orleans last week. He changed his driver to the American made Taylor Made, a black shafted club with a metal head. All of a sudden his driving, which had been erratic since his traumatic Sunday here three years ago, became, for the most part, as straight as an arrow.

If Lehman clung tenaciously to the leaderboard in the last round, Olazabal was even more committed to the cause. He could easily have dropped all number of strokes, but his powers of recovery were magnificently focused. At the fifth he was in a bunker and got up and down; at the sixth he was in trouble and chipped to 12 inches; at the seventh he hit a pine tree and hit a sand wedge to six feet and made the putt. At the eight he had a birdie.

The 12th, of course, was crucial but Olazabal safely parred that before making another crucial save on the par-five 13th. He has developed a draw on his drive which is precisely the shot needed to negotiate the dog- leg on the last hole at Amen Corner. Instead he pushed his drive to the right and his ball landed behind the trees and a small pile of pine needles. Olazabal needed the hands of a surgeon to remove the needles without moving his ball and the operation seemed to take an age.

He hit an excellent shot through the trees and settled for his par. Then he struck with the precision and purpose, not of a surgeon, but a matador. He found the heart of the green at the par-five 15th and drilled in a putt from around 30 feet for an eagle three. He went from eight under to 10 under which gave him a two-stroke lead over Lehman and although he dropped a shot at the 17th he could afford to.

Larry Mize, the champion here in 1987, had also got to eight under to share the lead by the time he had played the 11th but he dropped a stroke at Golden Bell and by the time he had taken a bogey five at the 18th he was out of it. Only Lehman, third in his first Masters last year, could stop Olazabal and when he bogeyed the 18th the game for him was also up.

Nick Faldo, the champion in 1989 and 1990, had a 74 in the final round to finish at eight over par for the tournament. He never threatened to appear on the leaderboard and according to Bernard Gallacher, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, Faldo's days as a major threat are numbered. 'I don't think he'll be the all-conquering player he once was,' Gallacher said. Gallacher's observation was made on the basis that Faldo simply does not play enough competitive golf. Faldo's priorities would probably be family first, golf second. Time was when it was the other way round.

Nick Price, one of the favourites here, had an eight at the Golden Bell, at 155 yards the shortest hole at Augusta National, in a round of 77. Price, the leading money-winner on the US Tour last year, put his ball into the water three times and when he finally reached the green he had a single putt. Greg Norman found the whole thing an exercise in frustration. A birdie at the eighth yesterday was his first in 26 holes and it was much too little and much too late. He also shot 77 to finish at four over par, 13 strokes behind Olazabal.

Costantino Rocca finished on 12 over par after a 73. The Italian, making his debut at Augusta National, had an eagle three at the 15th, the hole on which he scored a nine in the first round. Seve Ballesteros, who, along with Norman, was beaten by Mize in a play-off seven years ago, went round in 71 for an aggregate of 292, four over par. Woosnam finished with a 75 to stand at 13 over for the championship while Sam Torrance had a 74 for 297, one stroke behind the disconsolate Faldo.

Sandy Lyle, who received the Green Jacket in 1988, had a 73 (he stood at 11 over par for the tournament) following a calamitous start. Lyle had a double-bogey six at the first hole and a double-bogey seven at the second where he drove into the pine trees. Nevertheless he reached the turn in 38 and despite a double-bogey six at the 11th he came back in 35. That included a birdie two at the 16th.

Olazabal's winning aggregate of 279 was one stroke worse than his total here when he lost to Woosnam.

----------------------------------------------------------------- FINAL SCORES FROM AUGUSTA ----------------------------------------------------------------- (US unless stated) 279 J-M Olazabal (Sp) 74 67 69 69 281 T Lehman 70 70 69 72 282 L Mize 68 71 72 71 283 T Kite 69 72 71 71 285 L Roberts 75 68 72 70 J Haas 72 72 72 69 J McGovern 72 70 71 72 286 C Pavin 71 72 73 70 E Els 74 67 74 71 287 J Huston 72 72 74 69 R Floyd 70 74 71 72 I Baker-Finch (Aus) 71 71 71 74 288 T Watson 70 71 73 74 289 D Forsman 74 66 76 73 291 M O'Meara 75 70 76 70 B Faxon 71 73 73 74 C Beck 71 71 75 74 292 S Ballesteros (Sp) 70 76 75 71 H Irwin 73 68 79 72 B Glasson 72 73 75 72 B Crenshaw 74 73 73 72 L Wadkins 73 74 73 72 D Edwards 73 72 73 74 G Norman (Aus) 70 70 75 77 293 B Langer (Ger) 74 74 72 73 J Sluman 74 75 71 73 294 S Simpson 74 74 73 73 C Strange 74 70 75 75 V Singh (Fiji) 70 75 74 75 295 L Janzen 75 71 76 73 C Parry (Aus) 75 74 73 73 296 N Faldo (GB) 76 73 73 74 297 S Torrance (GB) 76 73 74 74 R Cochran 71 74 74 78 298 N Price (Zim) 74 73 74 77 D Frost (SA) 74 71 75 78 F Zoeller 74 72 74 78 299 S Lyle (GB) 75 73 78 73 F Funk 79 70 75 75 F Allem (SA) 69 77 76 77 300 C Rocca (It) 79 70 78 73 M Standly 77 69 79 75 A Magee 74 74 76 76 H Meshiai (Japan) 71 71 80 78 W Grady (Aus) 74 73 73 80 301 J Cook 77 72 77 75 I Woosnam (GB) 76 73 77 75 304 J Daly 76 73 77 78 H Twitty 73 76 74 81 305 J Maggert 75 73 82 75 * J Harris 72 76 80 77 ----------------------------------------------------------------- * denotes amateur -----------------------------------------------------------------

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