José Maria Olazábal played one of the finest last nine holes in the 63-year history of the Masters Tournament to parry the thrust of a world-class field and win his second Green Jacket in six years.
Olazábal defied a fiendish wind to cover the final 3,485 yards of the famous Augusta National course in 33 strokes for a 71 and an eight-under-par total of 280 with which he won by two strokes from American Davis Love III (71) and by three from Australian Greg Norman (73) with Americans Bob Estes (72) and Steve Pate (73) sharing fourth place on 284.
The Spaniard’s steely determination, so evident in his recovery from serious illness, was never better illustrated than at the par five 13th hole where Norman momentarily took the lead for the first time by holing a 25-foot putt for an eagle to go to seven under par. Olazábal immediately faced a 20-foot putt for a birdie to retain a share of the lead.
“When Greg holed his, I told myself I had to make mine because I did not want to go behind.” Olazábal, cool and composed, slotted the putt home and these two good friends walked to the 14th tee tied for the lead.
The story until then had been of Ian Woosnam, David Duval and Lee Westwood launching bold challenges as a host of contenders, including Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie, increased the tempo amongst the azaleas and dogwood.
Woosnam, the Masters champion in 1991, had four birdies in an outward 33 and eventually finished with a 72 for 288. “ I gave myself a chance to win,” he said. “My game is coming back, and this has got to be the toughest I’ve ever played Augusta. I’ll be winning again soon.”
Duval, number one in the Official World Golf Ranking, built his challenge on a 30-foot eagle putt on the second and, with birdies at the seventh, eighth and tenth, moved to five under but his progress was halted when he dropped two shots at the 11th where he was in the water.
Westwood, with birdies at the second, fourth, fifth and seventh, turned in 33 at which point he shared the lead at five under with Olazábal and Norman, both of whom had played four holes, and Pate with Duval at four under after the 12th and Steve Elkington and Montgomerie at three under after eight holes.
Westwood’s prayers, however, were not answered in Amen Corner where, after making a bogey at the 10th, he dropped three more shots. “You never know what they mean when they say it all comes down to the last nine holes here, until you stand on the 11th tee in that position,” he said. Westwood went on to birdie the 13th and 15th to complete a 71 for a share of fifth place alongside Duval (70), Paraguay’s Carlos Franco (73), American Phil Mickelson (71) and Zimbabwe’s Nick Price (72).
Meanwhile, Olazábal and Norman had both dropped shots at the fifth but the Spaniard holed from ten feet for a two at the sixth to get back to five under, alongside Estes and Pate. Norman joined them with a six-foot birdie at the eighth and Love made it a five-way tie with a 12-foot birdie at the ninth.
Olazábal started the inward nine in the best possible way. He holed from 20 feet to advance to six under, taking a one-shot lead, before Norman coaxed home a 30-foot putt for a birdie at the 11th. The Australian, however, took four at the short 12th where Olazábal played a magnificent bunker shot to escape with a par.
So to the 13th after which Norman and Olazábal led by two from Love and Pate. Then Pate holed from 20 feet for a birdie at the 15th as behind him Norman dropped a shot at the 14th. Olazabal was back in the lead on his own at seven under and, as Norman took six at the long 15th, so it was Love’s turn to edge to within one of the Spaniard by chipping in at the 16th for a two. Olazábal responded once again by moving to the 16th tee, hitting a wonderful five iron to four feet and holing the curling putt for a two. Two pars later and he was able to celebrate his 25th win world-wide.
Norman, Olazábal’s playing partner, hugged the Spaniard centre-stage and said: “This was a successful and a sad week for me and, if I could not win, then I’m delighted for José Maria. When he was going through a hard time, I made a point of giving him support and he did the same thing for me when I had surgery.”
Olazábal said: “It was a great day for me. It’s very difficult to express how I feel, but I’m very proud of myself. It’s an achievement I didn’t even dream about. The first time I won at Augusta National, it was my first major and I didn’t have the knowledge to enjoy the jacket. This one I will enjoy more.”
All of Spain also rejoiced as Sergio Garcia, the 1998 British Amateur Champion, made the halfway cut and finished low amateur in the Tournament.Final Leaderboard
from the Official Site of the Masters Tournament