Olazabal chooses best driver for Buick Invitational

Posted: Monday, February 11, 2002

SAN DIEGO -- Jose Maria Olazabal sank a birdie putt on No. 18, caught a few rays on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, then started hitting balls in case of a playoff.

It never came.

Olazabal's 7-under-par 65 held up for victory in the Buick Invitational when J.L. Lewis three-putted the 18th on the Torrey Pines South Course to blow his shot forcing extra holes.

As much credit as Olazabal deserves for the win, the tournament came down to Lewis folding under pressure.

''I kind of got a bad break, then I choked,'' Lewis admitted after his closing bogey.

And Olazabal took it. It was his first PGA Tour victory since he won his second Masters in 1999, and his sixth tour win overall. The Spaniard, who like Tiger Woods made the cut on the number, finished with a 72-hole total of 13-under 275.

''I feel like I played very, very well over the weekend,'' said Olazabal, who shot a 67 in the wind Saturday. The wind never came up Sunday, giving golfers perfect conditions under a cloudless sky.

''I thought I would really need a great round and you don't expect to shoot 7-under around here and I got it going on the front nine,'' Olazabal said. ''I kept quiet.''

Although Olazabal was just four strokes back starting the round, he took everyone by surprise.

''It would have been nice to get a win here, but Jose sort of snuck up on all of today,'' said John Daly, who was in contention until his putter abandoned him on the final three holes.

Lewis, trying for his second tour victory, tied for second with Mark O'Meara at 276. Both shot 70s, as did Daly, who finished fourth at 277.

Woods, winless on the tour this year, finished strong with a 66 -- two days after his near-disastrous 77 -- to tie for fifth with Bob Estes and Rory Sabbatini at 278.

Olazabal played four groups ahead of third-round co-leaders Lewis, O'Meara, and Jerry Kelly, and birdied the par-5, 551-yard 18th nearly an hour before Lewis' group reached the green.

He didn't watch Lewis' collapse on 18, but when he learned he was the winner he and his caddy shook hands and hugged.

Olazabal and Lewis both laid up on 18 -- an easy birdie hole before a renovation toughed and lengthened the whole course -- with vastly different results.

Lewis said his bad break was hitting a 6-iron second shot too close to Devlin's Billabong, the pond that guards 18. It went about 220 yards; Lewis said he needed it to go 175. He didn't feel comfortable swinging hard on his wedge shot to spin the ball down to the pin, which was in the left front of the green.

His third shot went about 40 feet past the flag and didn't roll back. Instead of going for the win, he lagged up and left himself with an 8-foot downhill putt.

Needing to save par to force a playoff, he pushed it right for a bogey.

"It was just a case of nerves.''

he said. ''I wasn't really nervous until I got up there to hit the third shot, so I was thinking, 'Boy, you better make sure you get it up and on to the green.'

''I just embarrassed myself. What can I say?'' said Lewis, who had put himself in great position with a birdie on the par-4, 429-yard 17th.

Olazabal laid up with a 9-iron on 18, then hit a brilliant 94-yard lob wedge shot over the pond for a 3-foot birdie putt.

About an hour later, he was the champion, having won $648,000.

Olazabal birdied three of his first six holes and played the front nine in 4-under. He knew he was in contention after birdies on the par-5 13th and the par-4 14th and 15th holes to go to 13-under.

He said he didn't look at the leaderboard until after the par-4 15th, when he hit a 6-iron to 4 feet.

''I made that putt and I thought I had a good chance of winning the tournament if I kept a good score from then on.''

His only bogey came on the par-3 16th, when he hit his tee shot in a trap and two-putted.

Divots: Olazabal's 65 was the low round of the tournament for exactly one minute. He posted his score at 2:05 p.m., then Greg Chalmers posted a 9-under 63 at 2:06 p.m. at the ninth hole. Chalmers moved from a tie for 78th after three rounds to a tie for 13th at 7-under. ... Olazabal won the Hong Kong Open in early December. ... O'Meara's birdie putt on 18 knocked Daly into fourth. Daly, playing in his fourth straight tournament, had back-to-back top 10 finishes for the first time since 1998. He tied for fourth at Phoenix two weeks ago. Daly hasn't had a top-three finish on tour since winning the British Open in 1995. ... Sabbatini broke an iron on 15 when he had to hit from under a tree.

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