Olazabal rolls back years in pursuit of good Grace
Sunday 22 January 2012
Europe's captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, still has a chance to kick off this Ryder Cup year with his first win for seven years – from the depths of 596th in the world.
After a wet and wild day that saw his fellow Spaniard Pablo Martin crash to a 90 and the overnight leader, Branden Grace, take 75, Olazabal is only two shots off the pace going into the final round of the Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt in South Africa.
By far the lowest-ranked player in the 35-man winners-only European Tour event, the 46-year-old stands eight under par, two behind Grace and the Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts. Olazabal managed a one-under-par 72 despite driving into the bushes with his opening shot of the day and then taking a double-bogey five on the 17th.
That looked to be very costly, but Grace – four clear at halfway, just as Colsaerts had been after his opening course-record 64 – double-bogeyed the same hole.
In contrast, the big-hitting Colsaerts eagled the last for a 69, needing only a drive and eight-iron to make the green on the 549-yard hole.
He and Grace, last man in after winning last week's Joburg Open, are a shot in front of two more South Africans, Retief Goosen and the Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, with Olazabal alone in fifth. Ireland's Padraig Harrington and the 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen are one stroke further back, then comes Ernie Els on six under.
Olazabal, who has already firmlyruled out the possibility of winning an eighth cap against the Americans, has been playing only a limited schedule during the last few seasons because of his continuing battle with rheumatism. "There's always a chance you might not win again when your game is off," he said. "It's hard to be positive at times, but I know I can fight. It would mean a lot. I do have a long journey ahead of me, but I'm ready for it and want to give myself the best chance.
"I'm excited about what I have to do, not so much about what might happen. It would be a great achievement if I hit seven or eight solid drives – just as I do on the range – and shoot a solid score."
Harrington finally won his battle with the 18th hole. After two double-bogey sevens he two-putted for birdie like Olazabal and was round in a three-under 70. At 89th in the world the three-time major winner is trying to climb back into the top 64 in time for next month's Accenture World Match Play. He can achieve that with a win today, although the cut-off point is not for another three weeks.
"There's a glaring part of my game missing – my routine is not flowing – but going forward I am quite positive I can fix that," Harrington said after making birdies at three of the last four holes.
Colsaerts, who topped the driving- distance statistics in Europe two years ago, did not even know how far his closing drive went, simply describing it as "enormous". His eight-iron, though, flew 200 yards downwind and he said making the 30-foot putt that followed was "the cherry on top".
He must be wondering what is going to happen next, though, after rounds of 64, 76 and 69. Grace was at the Tour qualifying school only a month ago, but now has the chance of back-to-back victories.
Martin, meanwhile, is 30 strokes back in last place after a round that contained a quadruple-bogey eight, a triple-bogey seven, four double-bogeys and two bogeys.
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