Olazabal sees the fun side of hunting in Tiger's territory

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Olazabal shot 68 in the third round yesterday and at 10 under par for the championship is two strokes behind Woods, and two strokes further back is Sergio Garcia, following a 69. It might not amount to an armada but it looks like a dangerous force none the less.

By rights, Olazabal should not be playing in The Open. It was only the withdrawal of another Spanish major winner, Seve Ballesteros, that allowed Olazabal to follow in his compatriot's footsteps. Actually, that remains to be seen.

Seve won here in 1984 with an aggregate of 276 and all Olazabal has to do today to match that is to go round the Old Course in 70. That, of course, does not mean he will win the Claret Jug. On the other hand, Olazabal, who in 1984 beat Colin Montgomerie to win the amateur championship, the year before he turned professional, is in a great position.

"I've always said that I have no problems playing with Tiger," Olazabal said. "It might be harder if you're playing in the States in the sense that the crowds there are louder. Once Tiger has played the hole, everybody moves, but that's not the case here. That's why I think the crowds at The Open are the best.''

Olazabal was asked if he had ever been more relaxed. "I'm enjoying the tournament a lot. I've had three great days on the course. Maybe it's got something to do with how I got in. I played the qualifying at Sunningdale and didn't make it and then the R&A made a phone call and said I was first reserve and I got in. Obviously it's a bonus to be here. I have a lot of respect for the course, for the tradition, for what it all means, and just being part of it this year is wonderful.''

Olazabal's 68 was again symmetry in motion: 34 out, 34 in, two birdies on the front nine, an eagle and a birdie on the back. The only dropped shot came at the 13th.

"If I'm leading the event teeing off at the 17th I'm not going to be as relaxed as I am right now, that's for sure," Olazabal said. "But I'll try to have as much fun as possible. There is always tension and pressure on the golf course. But at the end of the day if you can manage to enjoy what you're doing, even though the score might not be the one you want, that's a great step forward.''

Olazabal won the Masters at Augusta in 1994 and 1999: two green jackets but no Open, although his game always seemed suited to the world's oldest tournament. He was third at Muirfield in 1992 and perhaps, at 39, is again in a position to fill the Claret Jug with a vintage Rioja.

Ten years ago Olazabal's career was severely threatened, first by a foot condition and then back problems. "I've always said that those years were the toughest in my life," he said. "I was watching golf on television and thinking that I would never play again. I managed to win a major after that. I truly believe I'm a privileged person, a very fortunate one. I do what I love the most, even though sometimes I get upset on the golf course.

"Last year I made a decision to exercise a little bit harder, to gain a little bit of distance in my game. Nowadays if you're able to hit it long enough with a little bit of control the golf course is a little easier, although I'm not saying distance is everything.''

Garcia progressed from five under par at the beginning of the day to eight under, posting a second successive 69 to stand on 208.

"I'm fairly happy,'' he said. "I was striking the ball nicely and I hit a lot of good drives. I made some key putts when the wind was blowing, which was a hard thing to do.''

Garcia, 14 years Olazabal's junior, has a best finish in The Open of joint-eighth at Muirfield in 2002. Last month he was joint-third in the US Open, which was won by Michael Campbell. Asked what sort of score would give him a chance of winning, Garcia said: "If the wind keeps blowing maybe a 68 or a 67. That might do it.

"The course was tougher today and people were struggling, it was nice to see the course that way. It made people play their best. It looks like Ollie and I are going to have a chance. It would be nice to see him and me coming down the stretch and both having a chance of winning.''