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European Star Signals S.O.S.
February 05, 2001
Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal turns 35 on Feb. 5, and the brooding Basque can hear the clock ticking, so much so that he has put aside his distaste for strip malls, ranch dressing and kids who sass their parents to come to the U.S. and play on the PGA Tour. Last week at the Phoenix Open the two-time Masters champion made his first start as a member of the Tour and finished 60th. He will enter five straight tournaments on the West Coast, take a two-week break back home in Fuenterrabia, Spain, then return for four more Tour events through the Masters before resuming a more or less normal schedule on the European tour. If things go well, he intends to repeat this routine for several years. As the winner of the '99 Masters, he is exempt on Tour until 2004.
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February 05, 2001

European Star Signals S.o.s.

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MONEY

RANK

'00 Mark Hayes

$220,465

68th

99 Allen Doyle

$1,911,640

3rd

98 D. Lundstrom

$451,979

38th

'97 Bob Dickson

$480,521

32nd

'96 Masaru Amano

$226,479

60th

Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal turns 35 on Feb. 5, and the brooding Basque can hear the clock ticking, so much so that he has put aside his distaste for strip malls, ranch dressing and kids who sass their parents to come to the U.S. and play on the PGA Tour. Last week at the Phoenix Open the two-time Masters champion made his first start as a member of the Tour and finished 60th. He will enter five straight tournaments on the West Coast, take a two-week break back home in Fuenterrabia, Spain, then return for four more Tour events through the Masters before resuming a more or less normal schedule on the European tour. If things go well, he intends to repeat this routine for several years. As the winner of the '99 Masters, he is exempt on Tour until 2004.

Olaz�bal offers two reasons for his new schedule. Having won only four times since '97, when he returned to the sport after a career-threatening foot injury, he wants to raise his game before his prime years run out. "I want to improve, and in America I can test myself against the best players, play the best courses and work on the best practice facilities," he says in his accented but proficient English. "If I don't do it now, it's going to be harder to do it later."

Being in the U.S. for long stretches will also give Olaz�bal more access to instructor Butch Harmon, with whom he began working last year. Considered one of the best players in the game from 150 yards in, Olaz�bal has long been plagued with a wayward driver. Under Harmon he's working on getting his arms wider and higher on his backswing to shift more weight to his right side. From that position Olaz�bal doesn't produce the steep downswing that has always made it difficult for him to hit consistently straight shots with the longer clubs.

Olaz�bal denies that his decision to play in this country was influenced by his recently strained relationship with the European tour, of which he remains a member. Last year his manager and close friend, Sergio Gomez, criticized the tour's hierarchy and orientation as "British-cized," and in December Olaz�bal helped lead an unsuccessful effort to get the tour to open its books to the players.

Olaz�bal, a bachelor who shares a home with his parents in Fuenterrabia, says he has no plans to establish a base in the U.S. He intends to keep living from hotel to hotel, finding entertainment by going out to movies and watching wildlife shows on television. His homesickness will be eased by his constant companions at tournaments—Gomez and his wife, Maite. On the West Coast swing Olaz�bal will also have the company of his friend and fellow Ryder Cupper, Miguel Angel Jim�nez, who also joined the PGA Tour for 2001 and finished 60th in Phoenix.

"We are feeling our way, discovering restaurants we like," says Olaz�bal, who, when he can't find Spanish cuisine, favors steak houses. "Sometimes I bring my own olive oil, but otherwise, so far, so good."

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