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Putting woes afflicting Olazabal's game

Jose Maria Olazabal's latest putting debacles have sent him into the wilderness in world golf.

The twice-U.S. Masters champion, winner of 28 individual tournaments worldwide, has plunged to 135th in the world rankings and is 137th on the US PGA Tour.

His only brief respite has been a 30th place at Augusta in the Masters, hardly a result to encourage him greatly after he faded miserably in the final two rounds.

The 38-year-old Olazabal is at his wit's end over how to cure his ills on greens both sides of the Atlantic and his chances of making a seventh Ryder Cup appearance, at this stage, seem remote.

Last week's Canaries Spanish Open aptly illustrated his problems as he missed a string of putts around the three to 10ft mark, ending any hope of a first home Open success as he missed the cut by three strokes.

A once deadly putting touch has deserted him and he can no longer compensate for his errant driving with a sure short-game.

He was a lowly tied 89th on the US Tour's putting average going into last week's European Tour event.

His putting average of 34 putts in the two rounds he played last week in the Canaries will not enhance his Reuters Stats' European Tour putting average either when he finally plays enough to be counted in the official statistics.

Olazabal goes into this week's Italian Open a worried man. If he cannot quickly right a failing putting stroke he is doomed to pre-qualification for the remaining three majors.

And, way adrift in the nether regions of both European tables, he is heading for a Ryder Cup wild-card lottery again.

Bernhard Langer, like Sam Torrance for the 2001 side (subsequently 2002) may be loathe to hand a wild-card to a struggling player, no matter what his Ryder Cup pedigree.

Several pundits have spotted why Olazabal may no longer be so incisive on the greens, all to do with a change in his putting stroke, although Olazabal insisted last week that he has changed nothing.

"I've noticed his stroke is from square-to-square when he was always from in-to-square," said Sky Television commentator and former European Tour player Philip Parkin. "It wasn't technically the best but it worked for him.

"His stroke is also much higher now, when he used to sweep through on a low trajectory that was much more precise.

"Playing square-to-square is actually technically better but the trouble is he slips back to his old method and that causes him to cut across the ball."

Other experts believe that Olazabal has spent so long trying to perfect his notorious wayward driving that he has neglected his putting practice.

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