Basque In Glory With the cold-blooded skill of a surgeon, Jose Maria Olazabal carved out his second Masters title by beating crowd favorite Greg Norman and a host of others

April 19, 1999
April 19, 1999

Table of Contents
April 19, 1999

Basque In Glory With the cold-blooded skill of a surgeon, Jose Maria Olazabal carved out his second Masters title by beating crowd favorite Greg Norman and a host of others

As a man who treasures the silence of the small fishing village
where he lives with his parents in the north of Spain,
33-year-old Jose Maria Olazabal felt perfectly at home during
Sunday's closing round of the 1999 Masters. With each improbable
shot he created during that tension-filled finale, the response
from the large crowd following his twosome grew increasingly
muted, as if the marshals were holding up their hands to quiet
the fans after Olazabal hit. After all, lungs, like mummies and
memories, must be preserved, and this gallery's were needed to
cheer on Greg Norman, Olazabal's playing partner and the
heaviest fan favorite since Louis took on Schmeling in Yankee
Stadium. In fact, when Olazabal stepped to the tee at the
405-yard par-4 18th hole, needing only a bogey to win his second
green jacket, there was probably only one thought in the
collective mind of the adoring Normanites: Hey, if Greg can make
a 1, he could force a playoff.

This is an article from the April 19, 1999 issue Original Layout

Norman did many wonderful things during four redemptive days in
Augusta, but he couldn't do that. And now that no one's looking,
it's safe to open your mouth and let out a few cheers for
Fuenterrabia's favorite citizen. With his eight-under-par 280,
Olazabal beat both a field thick with worthy challengers and a
revamped, tricked-up course that Tom Lehman called "a chamber of
horrors." If that's not enough to impress you, consider that
three years ago, Olazabal was in such pain from aching feet--a
condition misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis but later
discovered to have been the result of a lower back hernia--that
he was reduced to crawling around his house on all fours. He was
out of action for 18 months, before starting to play
competitively again in March 1997.

A David Duval-Tiger Woods showdown was the story everyone wanted
when the Masters began. Norman was the story everyone wanted
when it went into its last day with 23 players bunched within
six shots of the lead. But, ultimately, Olazabal was the story
that this memorable Masters deserved. For the tournament is,
after all, about shotmaking, and few golfers design shots like
Olazabal, a man with the hands of a seamstress and the heart of
a warrior.

It's too strong to say that Olazabal (the requisite
pronunciation is oh-luh-THAH-bull) toyed with Norman and the
other challengers, for even he had trouble with a course that on
Sunday yielded only seven subpar rounds (out of 56) and yanked
embarrassing numbers out of such luminaries as Ernie Els (80)
and cigarette-puffing John Daly (81). But Olazabal did indulge
in a definitive game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better. One
had the feeling that the champ and the nine who finished within
five strokes of him could've battled for another 72 holes and
Ollie, as he's known to most of the Tour players, still would've
found a way to come out on top.

Indeed, challengers kept popping their heads up, and, as in an
amusement park game, a rubber mallet kept coming down on their
heads. There was the young Brit, Lee Westwood, taking only 10
putts in the first 10 holes on Sunday and climbing to within two
shots of Olazabal. Wham! Double bogey on the brutal par-4 11th.
There was the newly steady Steve Pate, a onetime human
volcano--who while wearing a shirt endorsing a hot sauce had a
record seven straight birdies on Saturday--parring his way
through the first 10 holes to share the lead with Olazabal and a
couple of others. Wham! Bogey on that troublesome 11th, which
featured an unprecedented pin placement, on the far left behind
a water hazard. There was Bob Estes (and what would a Masters
leader board be without Bob Estes?) birdieing number 9 to tie
Olazabal and Pate for the lead at five under. Wham! He also
bogeyed 11.

Uh-oh, here comes Duval, wearing what he called his "workmanlike
blue," a monochromatic shirt and slacks ensemble that should
discourage GQ from knocking at his door, throwing an eagle at
number 2 and birdies at 7, 8, 10, 13 and 15 to creep within one
of the lead. Wham! Mangled drive on the par-3 16th and a
threat-ending bogey.

The two most noteworthy challenges came from Davis Love III, who
finished two strokes behind Olazabal, and from Norman, who
finished three back. It's hard to say whether the 35-year-old
Love--who describes himself as the "quietest Number 3 [behind
Duval and Woods]--there's ever been in the world," affirmed his
reputation as a prodigious talent who can win any tournament or
affirmed his reputation as a prodigious talent who can lose any

With shaky short play--Love refreshingly admitted after the
round that his emotions had gotten the best of him at times--he
repeatedly failed to capitalize on his driving length at the
par-5 holes, particularly the 500-yard 15th, where a par on
Sunday (and a double bogey on Saturday) ultimately cost the 1997
PGA champion a chance at his second major. At the same time,
memories of the brilliant stroke he fashioned on the 16th might
serve him well in future pressure situations. Trailing Olazabal
by two, Love hit a tee shot over the water on the frightening
170-yarder that was hole high but 20 yards off the green, down
in a hollow. He pitched the ball hot and high, 15 feet above the
hole, and a friend of Love's in the gallery moaned, "Oh, Davis."
The golfer's mother, Penta, knew better. She had seen Davis and
his caddying brother, Mark, point to a spot on that devilish
green, and she knew that Davis had hit the shot he wanted. The
ball nearly came to a stop and then reversed direction,
sluggishly rolling backward and curving toward the hole in the
final yard before finally disappearing. Love's arms went up; he
knew he had a chance if only Olazabal would stumble once in the
last three holes.

By that time, however, Norman knew his chance was gone. How
often had he put out what seemed to be a winning hand only to
see Olazabal trump it? Down by one to Olazabal at the 13th, the
seductive 485-yard par-5 that ends Amen Corner, Norman made the
green in two and then slid in a curving, right-to-left 30-footer
for an eagle and a probable two-stroke swing. Olazabal first
smiled--"I enjoyed the roar," he would say later of the
gallery's thunderous reaction--and then curled in his own
21-foot snake for a birdie that kept him in a tie for the lead
and drew an appreciative nod from Norman and this comment from a
Norman fan in the crowd: "Now let's hope something bad happens
to Olazabal."

Was it at that moment that the Shark realized he wasn't going to
beat this guy? Or did it come at 16 when, after leaving his
seven-foot birdie putt short, Norman watched Olazabal snuggle in
his lightning-quick birdie putt ("You can't imagine what a
three-footer that was," Olazabal said later), which increased
Ollie's lead over Norman to three and his psychological
advantage to about 10.

When Olazabal somehow punched a soft five-iron from under the
trees and onto the green 190 yards away to seal a par at 17,
Norman's (and, though he didn't know it, Love's) hopes were
gone. Many American players spent the week criticizing the
rock-hard green at 17, but Olazabal, who doesn't criticize much
of anything except American food--he finds Yankee salad
dressings particularly off-putting--kept it on the dance floor
with a low hook under the most pressure-packed of conditions.
Lord, you could chill a bottle of beer with this man's blood.
Asked to describe his boyhood friend with a Spanish word, Jose
Itarte, a businessman who was in the small posse following
Olazabal, offered duro. It means "tough."

So once again at Augusta, vultures circled Norman's conquered
carcass. (Attention, Masters officials: Gary McCord told us to
say that.) Sunday's defeat wasn't nearly as painful as the
public flogging Norman endured in 1996, when he blew a
six-stroke lead and lost by five to Nick Faldo. Given the left
shoulder surgery Norman had a year ago, in fact, he acquitted
himself most honorably. But his performance under pressure must
again be questioned. His eagle on 13, for example, was reversed
by a bad drive on 14 that led to a bogey; a possible birdie on
15 became another bogey with a horrid 94-yard approach shot that
inexplicably found a bunker. "Omigosh," said a woman in the
gallery, "he's collapsin'. He's doin' it all over again." Of his
weak play on number 15, Norman only said, "Just wasn't meant to
make 5 there."

Still, it was wonderful to have Norman around on Sunday
afternoon. The sport has precious few personalities capable of
generating as much electricity as Norman. Duval, sunglasses
aside, registers negative numbers on the wattage scale, and
while Woods is a certified superstar, he doesn't so much connect
with the gallery as soar above it. The Shark seems to swim among
us, a monumental achievement, by the way, for someone who flies
his own helicopter. We rejoice in the man's triumphs, and to
paraphrase one of his good buds, we feel his pain. Could you
imagine Woods telling the press corps, as Norman did after his
first-round 71, "I like it better when you guys talk to me
more"? Could you imagine Duval talking openly before the
tournament, as Norman did, about the number of hours he had
spent "on the porcelain bowl" because of a stomach virus?

Norman's attractiveness to the gallery obscures the fact that
his game lacks the imagination of Olazabal's or, these days at
least, the bang-bang brilliance of Duval's or Woods's. But
whatever he does in a major tournament, positive or negative, is
invariably high theater. Take the bogey he made in the third
round at the par-3 12th. After he deposited his eight-iron tee
shot into the foliage behind the green and the ball couldn't be
found, Norman, now lying two, had to make the ignominious march
back to the tee box to reload. He aimed at the same line he had
taken several minutes earlier and, with the same club, struck a
tee shot that landed about 25 feet from the stick. During the
stroll back to the green, Norman's caddie, Tony Navarro, said,
"Let's just make a hard 4 and get out of here." Norman said he
never doubted he would make the putt, and that's exactly what he

After both of them had come up short on Sunday, Love and Norman
met outside the locker room, shook hands and shared condolences.
"We'll get one, one of these days," Love said, "the both of us."

Well, Olazabal, who outdueled Lehman in 1994 at Augusta, now has
two more than either of them. Much was made--and rightly
so--about how badly Norman wanted a green jacket to redeem
himself for '96, but the Masters means just as much to Olazabal,
the greenkeeper's son. As he sat in the grill room of the
clubhouse several hours after the tournament, he proclaimed
Augusta his favorite spot on earth besides Fuenterrabia. "When I
come to play here, I'm so happy," he said. "All I think is that
it's such a good place. I have great memories, and I owe a lot
of my career to this tournament. Somehow I just feel in peace
when I am here." Asked if he has a special place where he will
keep his green jacket (the winners get to hold on to it for a
year), he smiled, placed his right hand over his heart and said,
"This special place."

During a practice round the previous Sunday, Olazabal made a
point of showing his new caddie, 33-year-old Brendan McCartain,
around the course. "It was his first Masters, and I wanted
Brendan to enjoy where he was," said Olazabal. "When we were on
the 16th green on Saturday, I went over to him and told him to
look around and see how beautiful it is. I told him, 'You won't
see this anywhere else.'" In the six-bedroom, five-bathroom,
one-fitness-room palace that the unmarried Olazabal built for
himself and his parents, Gaspar and Julia, hard by the 7th hole
at the Real Club de San Sebastian in Fuenterrabia, Olazabal has
hung several enlarged photos from past Masters, some scenics,
some action, one of the 1994 green jacket ceremony, another of
him taking a drop at the 13th hole in '94 after he hit his
second shot into the drink.

It takes a special man to hang a photo of his own penalty shot,
but then it takes a special man to live with his parents even
though he's a millionaire. Olazabal is of Basque descent, and
there's a Basque tradition of simplicity and mystery. "My mom
cooks, and she can do anything," he says. "Me? I burn eggs and
toast. In a way I'm spoiled by my family." It takes a special
man to walk up the 18th fairway, knowing that he again has won
the tournament he cherishes more than any other, yet wait for
Norman so they could drink in the applause together, as if the
Shark hadn't gotten enough already. "I knew I had won, but I had
beside me Greg Norman," said Olazabal in his careful and courtly
English. "We all know what he's gone through in this tournament.
I feel sorry for him, and I would love to see him win the
Masters." It takes a special man to treat with equanimity the
passive-aggressive reception that he got from the Masters fans
on Sunday. "If I was a spectator," said Olazabal, "I'd have done
the exact same thing." That's doubtful.

Back in Fuenterrabia on Sunday night, Gaspar watched his son
sink his final two-foot putt on 18 and went out into the front
yard. Performing a ritual that has followed most of Jose Maria's
24 wins, Gaspar fired his hunting rifle into the air and then
set off a few fireworks. It's nice to know that someone,
somewhere, was making a little noise for such a marvelous

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [T of C]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER Back on his feet Victory was especially sweet for Olazabal, who not long ago wondered if he would ever walk again.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER Unrequited Love In falling two shots short, Love cemented the best and worst parts of his reputation.COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Woods tiger Duval made a charge on Sunday, but early-round woes left him pining for a green jacket.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER Sand Shark Norman's gritty showing wasn't enough as he lost three strokes to Olazabal over the last five holes.
The Masters is ultimately about shotmaking, and few golfers are
as artful as Olazabal.
Golf has precious few personalities capable of generating as
much electricity as Norman.