Olazabals Win at 94 NEC Prelude to Long Nightmare
He won the NEC World Series of Golf for the second time at the end of August in 1994. He had won the first time with a resounding 12-shot victory back in 1990. That was one of the most thorough demolitions in modern history as Olazabal marched through the Firestone Country Club field in unforgettable fashion.
It was somewhat different in 1994. The tournament was switched from the South Course of Firestone to the North Course for the only time in history because of the poor condition of the South's greens. Olazabal had won the crusher at the South, now he was about to do the same at the North.
Scott Hoch and Steve Lowery were the two who had the best chance of stopping Olazabal. Lowery birdied 15 and 16 to come within one stroke of tying Olazabal, but a gambling bogey on No. 18 ended his win hopes. Hoch was two behind going to No. 16 and told his caddie, 'I'm going to birdie the last three holes and win it,' but he, too, failed to do it.
Olazabal fired a final-round 67 to come from two off the pace set by Lowery and win. Lowery, thanks to his final-hole bogey, shot 72. Hoch shot 70.
The tournament in August of '94 proved to be Olazabel's last victory until 1997. He limped noticeably on his ailing foot when he tried to play in the World Match Play a couple of months later, then finally at the Casio World Open in Japan. He took time off in December and January as he usually does, then on Jan. 31 on 1995 he had surgery to remove a portion of his right toe, which was deemed too large.
'The problem was that the bone was too long and pushing against the foot,' he said at the time. He was still limping that year as he made his debut at the Turespana Masters Andalucia in the beginning of March, 1995.
'The foot is not 100 percent, but I am walking better now, and this week I can practice as normal,' he said at the tournament in Spain. He was still noticeably limping when he came to the U.S. later in the month to play Bay Hill. He played in three tournaments leading up the Masters, where he had won in 1994.
He tied for 14th in the '95 Masters and was certain he was improving. But it was a false hope. He admitted in August of that year, 'Physically, I'm not OK. I'm having some trouble with my right foot. The walking really bothers me. Hopefully, I have a couple of weeks ahead of me to recover from it. I might be ready by the Ryder Cup.'
In mid-year of '95, doctors in Spain thought they had found an answer. A tumor between his third and fourth toes had been found. When he walked, the tumor pressed on nerves and pain shot up the foot. More surgery was in order for the off-season.
He missed the Ryder Cup, though, and by now he was really worried. It was almost a year since the problem had begun, he had gone through two toe surgeries, and nothing had relieved the pain. He was developing leg and hip problems because of the stress he was putting on other joints while trying to protect his foot. He was just 30 years old and it appeared that his career might be over.
On into 1996, it continued. He tried to play in an exhibition match with Seve Ballesteros against Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance early in the year, but he paid dearly for it. Olazabal was in crutches the following day. He was supposed to return to the European Tour in March for the Dubai Desert Classic, but recurring pain forced him to cancel.
Now he had tried just about everything. He had visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He had undergone a variety of treatments, including homeopathy and chemotherapy. He was now on a special diet after sending blood samples to a British laboratory.
'They advised him to avoid coffee, corn, yeast and onions,' said his manager, Sergio Gomez, in July of 1995. 'It all seems to be working because he is considerably better than he was three months ago.
'He accepts that he is probably going to have to play in some pain for the rest of his life, but he does not want to make his comeback when the pain is at a level which affects his concentration.'
Olazabal was then trying to play three days a week, but he never could grind it out for more than 12 or 13 holes without the foot giving him so much trouble that he would have to quit. He tried fitfully to play tournaments, hobbling around through the Trophee Lancome in Paris in September of 1995, but finally he could no longer walk. He went into seclusion at his house in Spain and was virtually bed-ridden.
Olazabal gave up hope of ever playing again as his condition worsened. He was house-bound, able to move only to crawl to the bathroom. That was his condition when, in late summer of 1996, he was ready to grab at any relief, regardless of the method. And that was when he met a Munich doctor, Hans Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt.
Muller-Wohlfahrt had a diagnosis that surprised everyone associated with Olazabal. The problem, said the doctor, was in his lower back. A hernia there had caused the foot pain, not rheumatoid arthritis, as virtually everyone else had diagnosed the difficulty.
With the focus now on that area of the anatomy, Olazabal began to make rapid progress. Before long he could walk a little. Then he could hit balls. He actually played practice rounds Feb. 24 and 25, 1997, in Dubai, then practiced for five hours a day with only five-minute breaks each hour.
And finally, he returned to competition after an 18-month absence. He played all four rounds at that tournament at Dubai, and in his third event back after the lengthy hiatus, he won ' at the Turespana Masters.
Olazabal went through hell and back, but he had finally arrived. It was his first win since that NEC World Series in Akron, back in 1994. It wouldn't, however, be his last.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."