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 María Olazábal 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 Olazábal hit. After all, lungs, like mummies and memories, must be preserved, and this gallery's were needed to cheer on Greg Norman, Olazábal's playing partner and the heaviest fan favorite since Louis took on Schmeling in Yankee Stadium. In fact, when Olazábal 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.
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, Olazábal 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, Olazábal 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, Olazábal was the story that this memorable Masters deserved. For the tournament is, after all, about shotmaking, and few golfers design shots like Olazábal, a man with the hands of a seamstress and the heart of a warrior.
It's too strong to say that Olazábal (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 Olazábal 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 Olazábal. 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 Olazábal 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 Olazábal 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 Olazábal, 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 tournament.
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 Olazábal 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 Olazábal 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 Olazábal trump it? Down by one to Olazábal 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. Olazábal 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 Olazábal."
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 Olazábal snuggle in his lightning-quick birdie putt ("You can't imagine what a three-footer that was," Olazábal said later), which increased Ollie's lead over Norman to three and his psychological advantage to about 10.