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Olazabal misses a Ryder Cup round for first time

Jose Maria Olazabal, who has never sat out a match in five Ryder Cups, was surprisingly left out of Friday morning's foursomes matches -- at his own request.

European team captain Mark James said on Thursday that the Spaniard, who has been struggling with his game recently, had asked not to play in the opening alternate-shot contests.

"I think Ollie just wanted another morning to work on his game," James said. "He's very, very close."

James, who was planning to pair Olazabal with fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, opted instead to have Jimenez play with Padraig Harrington of Ireland -- pairing two of his seven Cup rookies.

Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion who has an impressive 14-8-3 record in five Ryder Cups, has not played well since the U.S. Open in June -- when he broke his hand punching a wall after playing poorly in the first round.

He missed four consecutive cuts -- including at the British Open and the PGA Championship -- and has not finished better than 39th in his last three starts.

"It was pretty much his decision," James said of Olazabal. "He knew how I felt about the situation and he knew who would be playing instead of him ... And he was the best person to judge."

James stressed that it was the state of Olazabal's game, and not any physical problem, that led to his self-imposed absence. "As far as I'm aware he's extremely fit."

Olazabal had missed almost two years of golf in the mid- 1990s when a mysterious spinal problem, since diagnosed and treated, prevented him from walking without pain.

James said Olazabal made his decision to sit out the morning matches after he played alongside Harrington in practice on Thursday and saw how well the Irishman was playing.

Asked why he decided to pair the Irish rookie with the Spanish rookie Jimenez, James said of Harrington: "He got a couple of seconds in the last minute to get onto the team and he's played extremely well in practice."

Olazabal, who was not available to comment, has been trying to refine his swing. After the team flew into nearby Boston on Monday, he immediately went to the course to practice with his long-time teacher, John Jacobs, a former Ryder Cup player and captain.

While James would not confirm it, he hinted that Olazabal would play in Friday afternoon's four-ball matches.

"It's a different type of game," James said. "Four-ball requires different types of players. Certain players would suit foursomes, some would suit four-ball."

Olazabal, however, has very similar records in each format -- 6-2-0 in foursomes and 5-2-1 in four-ball.

Friday afternoon's pairings will be announced immediately after the morning matches conclude.