Olazabal walks tall again

Spaniard's road back from foot woes ends in 2nd Masters win

Norman starts run, slips

Steady finish for 280 beats Love by 2 shots

April 12, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jose Maria Olazabal watched on television three years ago as Greg Norman blew another chance at the Masters. The world that had felt sorry for Norman basically forgot about Olazabal.

Many of his fellow pros didn't figure on Olazabal, who was struck by foot problems that threatened his career and the quality of his life, returning to Augusta National to get another shot at winning his second green jacket.

"What we were hearing from a long way away was that he was done playing," Davis Love recalled last night.

Considering the obstacles he has overcome, Olazabal's victory in the 63rd Masters was even more impressive and more satisfying than his first victory here five years ago.

And Norman's performance down the stretch added to a legacy of disappointment in his star-crossed career.

"It's very satisfying," said Olazabal. "It's very difficult to explain how I feel. I'm very proud of myself. This is very special. When I was at my lowest, I never thought about this. I thought I'd never play golf again."

A 1-under-par 71 gave Olazabal a four-round total of 8-under-par 280 and a two-shot victory over Love. While it took some pressure putts by Olazabal to win, a couple of errant shots by Norman made things a lot easier for the 33-year-old Spaniard.

After taking a brief, one-shot lead with a dramatic, 25-foot eagle putt on the par-5 13th hole, Norman watched Olazabal immediately make a 21-footer for birdie to tie.

Norman then bogeyed the next two holes to fade to third, as Olazabal made another birdie at the par-3 16th and saved par at 17 with a tough, downhill 7-footer.

"I think that putt [at 13] and the one he made at 17 were the two putts that won him the golf tournament," said Norman.

Said Olazabal: "I don't know how the heck I made that putt [on 17]."

With the victory, Olazabal won $720,000. It was his fifth PGA Tour victory. and his 22nd tournament win worldwide.

Asked to sum up his emotions after finishing in the top three here for the fifth time in his career, Norman said it would be a lot easier to leave this year's tournament behind than it was three years ago when he blew a six-shot lead to lose to Faldo.

"It was a successful week and a sad week all rolled up in one," said Norman, 44, who wound up with a 1-over-par 73 yesterday.

"I feel pretty good within myself to do what I did. I'm still disappointed that I didn't win. But this is a different animal from '96."

It was more reminiscent of 1986, when Norman hit a wild, 4-iron approach to the 18th green and wound up losing by a shot to Jack Nicklaus.

This time, Norman didn't get that far. He bogeyed the par-4 14th after an errant drive, and bogeyed the par-5 15th after hitting his approach into a greenside bunker.

The only player left with a chance was Love, who had made a miraculous chip-in for birdie on 16 to put him at 6-under. But Love couldn't get any further, and he finished second here, as he did behind Ben Crenshaw in 1995.

"I'm disappointed I didn't win," said Love, 34. "I left a lot of shots out there. But I'm sure a lot of players feel the same way."

Six players had a share of the lead during the final round, including five simultaneously at one point. Steve Pate got to 6-under with a birdie at 16, but bogeyed the next two holes to finish tied with Bob Estes for fourth. Estes had dropped out earlier with a bogey at 11.

Lee Westwood of England flirted with the lead, but after making the turn at 5-under, made a double-bogey at the suddenly treacherous par-4 11th and a bogey at the par-3 12th. David Duval had reached 5-under earlier, but he also double-bogeyed the 11th.

"It's the first time I've been in this position to win a major," said Westwood, 26, who after a 1-under 71 finished in a group of five at 3-under. "My stomach was in knots."

The problems were caused not only by the normal pressure that envelopes a major championship during the final round, and by the newly grown rough, but also by a steady wind that gusted to around 25 miles an hour.

Along with an unrelenting sun, it helped making the greens even faster and less forgiving.

"It was putting on ice," said Love.

Somehow, Olazabal survived. The putting woes that kept him from breaking the tournament wide open on Saturday continued on the front nine, and he made three straight bogeys to fall to 4-under through five holes. Olazabal recalled a conversation he had with his caddie.

"I always struggle on the front nine," he said later. "I was not a very happy camper after five holes. I said to my caddie, `I think we're giving this tournament away.' I said, `If I can make a few putts, I still have a chance to win.' "

And so he did, making a 9-footer for birdie on the par-3 sixth hole to regain a share of the lead, and a 12-footer on the par-4 10th for birdie to assume sole possession. Then came the putt on the 13th to tie Norman and the one at 17 to keep his advantage lead at two shots.

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