Olazabal finds a route: 66

135 leads McCarron by one in Masters

Norman 3 shots back

April 10, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- By the look of things yesterday in the 63rd Masters, the new look of Augusta National did little to deter some familiar faces from occupying some familiar places on the leader board.

Consider this: Of the top eight players, seven have combined for 11 major championships. Two have won the Masters and two others have finished second. This is clearly not the Milwaukee Open.

"Experience is a great factor here," said Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain. "The more you have played here, the more you know what you have to do on each hole and what shots you have to hit. But at the end of the day, you still have to play well."

A bogey-free, 6-under-par 66 gave the 1994 champion a two-round total of 8-under 135 and a one-shot lead over Scott McCarron. Greg Norman, a perennial contender and a quasi-tragic figure here, is three shots behind, as is two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen.

Former PGA champion Davis Love, a runner-up here in 1995, trails by five shots and is tied with former British Open and PGA champion Nick Price. Four players -- two-time champion Bernhard Langer of Germany, Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, Bill Glasson and Brandel Chamblee -- are at 2-under.

More importantly, at least to the folks at CBS, is that pre-tournament favorites David Duval and Tiger Woods might not get much air time this weekend. Woods, who shattered the tournament record in winning by 12 strokes two years ago, is eight shots back and Duval is nine. Defending champion Mark O'Meara is 10 shots behind Olazabal.

"Other than David and Tiger, I think the rest of the guys in the field also know they're not the only two in the field," Janzen said after a 3-under-par 69 kept him in contention. "I would put them at the top of my list of favorites, but I think anybody can win this tournament."

Janzen was speaking shortly before Duval put his approach at the par-5 15th into a pond, leading to a triple-bogey 8 and eventually to a 2-over 74. It was also before Woods three-putted for bogey on the par-4 11th hole and then put a shot in the water for a double-bogey 5 at the par-3 12th that led to a second straight, even-par 72.

"I just made a big score on one hole," said Duval, 27, whose chances for his first major championship and third victory in as many weeks seem dim. "I'm not concerned with my position. I'm concerned with my play."

Said Woods, 23: "Eight shots is not a lot at Augusta. I saw the dots where they were putting some of tomorrow's pins. You have to play solid golf and give yourself some chances."

With the much-anticipated showdown between the world's top two ranked players unlikely to happen, the last two rounds still set up with some intriguing story lines. Among the the most interesting are those connected with Olazabal and Norman.

Olazabal, 33, has made a remarkable comeback from a painful foot condition that caused him to take 18 months off from competitive golf. The condition was misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis and Olazabal feared he might become crippled until a doctor in Germany discovered that the pain was the result of a damaged nerve in his back.

"I try not to think too much about what happened in the past," said Olazabal, who missed the Masters two years ago and didn't return to the European PGA Tour until 1997. "It has helped me to appreciate things more."

It was a shoulder injury after last year's Masters that forced Norman off the PGA Tour for several months and also proved to be something of a revelation.

This marks the first time since 1996 that Norman has made the cut here, and being in contention again will certainly evoke some memories this weekend.

As positive as Norman tries to be, the memories are still painful; of blowing a chance to force a playoff with Jack Nicklaus in 1986 with an errant approach shot on the final hole Sunday; of watching Larry Mize's miracle pitch shot end their match on the second hole of sudden death a year later.

And, of course, when Norman self-destructed during a final-round 78 to lose a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo.

"My locker is full of letters this week, so you still get people writing to you from 1996," said Norman. "You can roll that into what happened last year with surgery, roll it into the fact that you get to see and appreciate other things in life more than just the game of golf."

It was interesting to see how Olazabal and Norman have changed the way they play -- or haven't changed. Olazabal is still the swashbuckling disciple of former Masters champion Seve Ballesteros, going for the par-5s in two, even using a 1-iron to get to the green on the 15th. Norman's image as "the Great White Shark" has been altered a bit by the surgery. He laid up on two of the par-5s.

"I think it's a fact that, 10 years later, we're a little older," said Norman, 44. "I can still hit a 4-iron 214 yards. Maybe back then, I would have hit a 5-iron. I think you have to weigh out the consequences. Come Sunday, if you need to do it and you're a little behind, yeah, I'll be pulling out the 4-iron and going for it."

Just like Nicklaus did in 1986, when he overtook Ballesteros and held off Norman down the stretch to win his record sixth green jacket. Now it might be Norman taking on the role of the sentimental favorite, and trying to beat Olazabal.

Asked yesterday if he ever thought he would play that part on one of golf's biggest stages, Norman seemed bemused.

"I don't know," he said. "Sentimental favorite? How do you determine that? From '96 or because I'm old?"

Pub Date: 4/10/99

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