Limping Olazabal is obliged to tread warily

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The Independent Online
Jose-Maria Olazabal may not be able to put his best foot forward in defence of the Masters which starts here on Thursday. Yesterday the Spaniard was tip-toeing through the azaleas and is clearly still affected by the operation to his right foot which was carried out eight weeks ago.

Olazabal, who had a bone shortened on his big toe, suffered another unkind cut when he failed to avoid the guillotine at the half-way stage of the Freeport-McMoran Classic in New Orleans. While Davis Love III was securing his ticket, in a play-off in Louisiana, for the Masters, Olazabal was able to travel to Augusta early.

During a six-hour practice round he was limping noticeably. In New Orleans he shot 73-71 and missed the cut by a stroke. "The thing that happened to him there is that he missed all his four and five-foot putts," Sergio Gomez, his manager, said. "That was unusual for him." Gomez added that since arriving in Georgia Olazabal was more comfortable. "Not confident," Gomez said," but comfortable. I think he's getting used to limping. He never complains."

Ben Crenshaw, who won the Green Jacket in 1984, also missed the cut in New Orleans and he, too, is treading wearily around Augusta National. Despite evidence to the contrary they insist on calling the Texan "Gentle Ben". Crenshaw, who angrily snapped his putter and went on to lose a crucial singles match against Eamonn Darcy in the 1987 Ryder Cup in Columbus, Ohio, is currently paying the price for a similarly ill-tempered act 16 years ago. After three-putting a green during the Colonial Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas, Gentle Ben kicked a rubbish bin and his big right toe hasn't been the same since. It sometimes slips out of joint, as it did in the first round in New Orleans last Thursday. "It makes it very hard to walk," Crenshaw said. "It feels like somebody's sticking a knife in there."

When Crenshaw arrived in Augusta he learned of the death of his coach and mentor, Harvey Penick, on Sunday at the age of 90. Penick served as the head golf professional at the Austin Country Club in Texas for 48 years and two of his outstanding pupils were Crenshaw and Tom Kite. Penick became a best-selling author with the publication of Harvey Penick's Little Red Book. In the past three years it has sold more than a million copies.

The field for the 59th Masters grew to 87 when Love defeated Mike Heinen in a sudden death play-off on Sunday. Love's labours began when he called a two-shot penalty on himself for incorrectly marking his ball on a green during the Western Open last year. That led to him missing the cut, which in turn kept him out of the top 30 in the money list - so his last chance of getting into the Masters was to win in New Orleans.

Even then he made hard work of it, taking bogeys at the last two holes which enabled Heinen, who had already qualified for the Masters, to draw level on 14 under par. "I just kept telling myself: `You're going to win the tournament, you're going to the Masters'." Love, who birdied the second extra hole to win the play-off, said: "I've collapsed a lot of times this year. I've been thinking too much about the Masters. It's been a lot of pressure. Now I can relax. I'm going to have a lot more fun than anyone else this week. I waited longer to get there."

Nick Faldo, who has been installed as favourite by the London bookmakers, yesterday imparted the benefit of his experience of Augusta National - he won here in 1989 and 1990 - to Tiger Woods, the US amateur champion, and Lee James, the amateur champion. Faldo played a practice round with Woods and James, both of whom are playing in the Masters for the first time.