Good sign for defending champion Olazabal

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Look out! Defending champion Jose Maria Olazabal said he's playing bad as the Masters week begin in Augusta, Georgia.

Olazabal said the same thing last year, and won his second green jacket.

"I'm pretty much feeling the same way I did last year," Olazabal said. "It's going to be difficult for the same thing to happen twice in consecutive years. I will have to improve that driving and obviously the rest of the game has to go with it."

Olazabal said he almost felt destined to win last year after battling foot problems.

"I really believe that things are meant to happen sometimes," Olazabal said. "I'm going to try to enjoy it as much as possible. The best way to enjoy it is play good golf and that's up to me."

Asked what he was trying to work on, Olazabal joked, "I'm hitting branches on both sides of the fairway."


GOLDEN OLDIES PAIRED Arnold Palmer said he will enjoy Thursday's pairing featuring himself and two other golden oldies: Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

The trio has 13 green jackets between them - six for Nicklaus, four for Palmer and three for Player.

"I've seen these faces before and we're going to have some fun," Palmer said.

Palmer noted the 1:23 p.m. tee time and joked: "We're going to have to play fast. I usually go to bed by 5 p.m."

Palmer said the trio has played numerous times together on the senior tour.

"It's not that unusual except this is at Augusta," Palmer said.


LAWRIE AGOG OVER MASTERS British Open champion Paul Lawrie found out there's a big difference between watching the Masters on TV and actually walking Augusta National Golf Club.

"I thought it was very hilly, much hillier than I realized, " said Lawrie, who qualified for the Masters by prevailing in a playoff in July at Carnoustie over Justin Leonard and Jean Van de Velde. "It's just beautiful."

The Scotsman watched the tournament on TV and longed to play in the event.

"I'll probably be shaking on the first tee Thursday," Lawrie said.

Fellow Scot Colin Montgomerie has been showing Lawrie the layout.

"Amen Corner (Nos 11, 12 and 13) is just fantastic," Lawrie said. "Every green is smaller than what you see on TV.

"Monty has been fantastic helping me out. He showed me how the wind swirls. We stood on the 11th tee and the wind was into us. No. 12 goes in the same direction, but we were downwind. It's incredible just trying to get the wind right."

Lawrie isn't putting a lot of pressure on himself to produce his first time at the Masters.

"A top 10 would be a good week for the first time here," he said.


WESTWOOD GETS SICK British European PGA Tour star Lee Westwood didn't show for a scheduled interview session on Tuesday and there was a good reason: He was very sick.

Masters spokesman Glenn Greenspan said Westwood was hurting because of stomach problems.

"We think it might be food poisoning, but we don't know yet," Greenspan said.

Westwood finished sixth in the 1999 Masters. He has nine victories on the European Tour and won the 1998 Freeport McDermott Classic in New Orleans.


CLARKE'S SON BATTLING CHICKENPOX Ireland's Darren Clarke beat Tiger Woods recently. He just hopes he doesn't have to beat a tougher foe - chicken pox.

Clarke, who beat Woods 4 and 3 in the Andersen Consulting Match Play championship in February, said his 20-month-old son, Tyrone, has had chickenpox for a week.

Clarke isn't sure if he's ever had the disease.

"I tried to check all of my medical records and stuff if I've had it before but nobody can tell me definitely," Clarke said. "There's an incubation period of two weeks."


CRENSHAW'S LONGTIME CADDIE OUT Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw won't have Carl Jackson on his bag this week.

Jackson, who has caddied for Crenshaw in every Masters since 1976, is recovering from colon surgery.

It was Jackson who suggested a swing change that was instrumental in Crenshaw winning the 1995 Masters.

Lin Strickler is Crenshaw's regular tour caddie and will be with him at Augusta this week.

"It makes me sick Carl won't be here," Crenshaw said.


MASTER'S TIDBITS Thirty years ago this week Billy Casper won his only Masters title in a playoff with Gene Littler. ... Billy Payne, the president and CEO of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games, is the new chairman of the Masters media committee. He's helping conduct interviews in the press building and replaced Charlie Yates, who held the post since 1971. ... Tiger Woods was paired with Australian amateur sensation Aaron Baddeley on Thursday. Baddeley won the Australian Open. ... Defending champion Olazabal is paired with U.S. Amateur champion David Gossett. ... Palmer played with Gossett on Tuesday and said, "He hits the ball long and is very impressive. He's not even 21, but he has a great future." Gossett is a sophomore at the University of Texas and will announce at the end of the summer whether he will turn professional.