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Olazabal not worried about the money

Jose Maria Olazabal's thrilling and emotional Masters victory will not be followed by a mad dash to cash in on his success.

What matters most to the 33-year-old Spaniard following his second Augusta triumph is not the fortune that is there to be made from contracts and appearance fees.

It is his family and friends in San Sebastian - the people whose support was so important to him during the 18-month lay-off when not only his career but his life lay in ruins.

He will arrive home this week not to show them the £450,000 cheque that came with his two-stroke victory over Davis Love but the affection he feels for them.

Just thinking about that reduced Olazabal to tears in his winner's press conference on Sunday night, just as he cried when he won in Gran Canaria two years ago in only his third tournament back from a crippling foot injury and again when he returned to Ryder Cup action at Valderrama in September 1997 after missing the match in 1995.

Asked what would be the first thing he will do on his homecoming, he broke down before saying: "I will embrace my family, for sure."

Any parent can imagine what it must have been like to see their only son, a sporting superstar, struck down to such an extent that he had to crawl on the floor from bedroom to living room for months on end.

"Everybody around me was suffering, and there was nothing anybody could say to cheer me up," Olazabal remembers of the dark days of 1996.

"I would not wish it on anybody. I preferred to be alone and I never dreamt that I would be sitting here now. It's very difficult to express how I feel.

"I'm proud of myself and I'm very happy not just for myself, but also for all the people who supported me through the bad times.

"It is a great day for me and it's just not comparable to 1994.

"I didn't have time to enjoy that victory, but this one I will much more."

In an American magazine out this month Mark McCormack, head of the giant International Management Group, described Olazabal as a "strange guy - he just doesn't care about the money he could be making."

Olazabal has nonetheless become a multi-millionaire from golf but he still lives with his parents and admits he does not think much about pesetas.

For him the joy is the competition itself rather than what it brings and, having been denied that for so long, words could hardly express what winning another green jacket meant to him.

Every other player in the field was delighted for him. Love, runner-up again just as he was to Ben Crenshaw in 1995, said: "I'm very happy for Jose Maria to come back and win after all that.

"He's a fighter and a scrapper. What we were hearing was that he was done and would never come back."

Third-placed Greg Norman, the nearly man at Augusta yet again at the age of 44, had enormous admiration for the way Olazabal handled the emotion of the final round when they went head-to-head.

"He was in control, just going about his business," said the Australian, who himself had seven months out last year following shoulder surgery.

"At some stages it didn't feel like we were playing the last round of the Masters.

"We were enjoying our round together that much.

"It wasn't until I was walking up on 18 with him Olazabal waited so they could share the ovation that I said to myself that he made it look easy to win the tournament."

From Olazabal's perspective it was not, of course. He had to regroup after bogeying three holes in a row from the third and losing the lead.

Then when Norman sank a 30-foot eagle putt on the 13th to leap to seven under, he followed him in from 20 feet for birdie to tie things up.

Norman bogeyed the next two, but Love emerged as a threat by chipping in outrageously at the 16th, the ball going up and down the slope in the green and somehow finding the cup.

Olazabal's response to that was to hit his tee shot to under four feet and make the nerve-testing putt - "downhill, lightning fast, left to right" - to get two ahead with two to play.

Just as important was the seven-foot second putt on the rock-hard 17th green after he had caught the Eisenhower pine tree with his drive.

It enabled him to take a bogey five on the last and still win. But like the champion he is, he made four.

Norman said: "Jose's a good person. Of course, I'm sad I didn't win, but if it wasn't going to be me I wanted it to be him.

"He's got a good heart; he's a great competitor and he's good for the game of golf."

The game going into the Masters was billed as a developing duel between David Duval and Tiger Woods.

Olazabal, Love and Norman changed that. Duval's last-day charge into a share of second place faltered, and eventually he finished tied for sixth with Lee Westwood.

Woods, the runaway winner in 1997, is still striving to provide an encore and after an eight on Thursday and an outward 40 yesterday he came in only 18th.

It was Olazabal's week. Now he will be trying to make it his year.

He is the only player, of course, who could win the Grand Slam of all four majors back-to-back in this millennium.

 

TRW