Ollie in another fine mess

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The Independent Online

A year ago Jose Maria Olazabal arrived at Augusta with little confidence having missed the cut at the BellSouth Classic. He left with his second green jacket. After making the cut at the TPC of Sugarloaf this week, the Spaniard is, however, even less optimistic about the Masters.

By his own admission, his driving, always suspect, is worse than ever, while his putting, a vital factor at Augusta, is not up to its usually high standard. It has been a particularly downcast Ollie who has trudged up and down the hills of this Greg Norman-designed course over the past few days.

The fairways at Augusta National may be generous, but not generous enough for Olazabal, apparently. "There is not enough room in the world for my driver," he said. "Some of my tees shots are awful. I have never been a great driver but I don't think it has been as bad as it has this year."

By the time Olazabal finished his second round on Friday at the ninth, he had resorted to a one-iron off the tee in order to find the fairway at the 467-yard par four. While others could attack the narrow green with a short-iron shot, the Spaniard needed to thread a four-iron onto the putting surface.

Exasperated, Olazabal added: "You always keep some hope but being realistic, my game is not good enough to defend the title at Augusta right now. Of course, last year I would not have expected to win after missing the cut here, but you don't expect those things to happen again.

"It's tough going. My missed shots last year were not as bad as they are now. I think I maybe have less confidence now. It's quite a big problem. I can't see it coming right shortly. When I've been in a bad patch before, it's come gradually, not suddenly."

On the treacherous greens at Augusta last year, Olazabal did not three-putt once. With so little confidence, his short game currently lacks its usual authority. "When you are not driving well, it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of your game," he said.

Short of flying in John Jacobs, his old mentor and the only person Olazabal has ever listened to concerning his swing, there is not much he can do but keep plugging away. A vital member of Europe's Ryder Cup winning teams and twice a Masters champion, Olazabal might have won more majors had he been even an average driver, such is the quality of his iron play and short game.

At one under par, alongside another former Masters champion, Nick Faldo, Olazabal started the third round nine behind the 36-hole leader, Joey Sindelar. John Huston was one back with Phil Mickelson and Paul Stankowski sharing third place. The leading European was last year's Open runner-up, Jean Van de Velde, in a group of five, including Gary Nicklaus, on seven under.

Mickelson has already visited Augusta to see the latest changes to the course. "There is more rough," the left-hander reported. "They have grown it in and made it a little bit higher. The course is excellent, as pristine as it can be, and the other changes are fine. But why do they keep changing it every year? I wish we could play the course the guys did in the Thirties and Forties."