"His Short Game Is One Of The Best That's Ever Been"

Phil Mickelson talks about Jose Maria Olazabal

Jose Maria Olazabal
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Jose Maria Olazabal signed off with a birdie three as he completed a stellar and emotional week at Augusta

Six months ago Jose Maria Olazabal shot 78-80 at The Masters. Coming into this week he hadn’t played since then.

But, on a course just shy of 7,500 yards, he played all four rounds here for the first time since 2014. For all the brilliance and longevity of the likes of Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples there had been nothing to suggest that the Spaniard might achieve what the likes of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy couldn’t do in terms of clearing the halfway hurdle.

There has been no form to speak of and yet he played the four rounds in a total of eight over and signed off with a beautiful birdie three.

“I was really proud and emotional with everything on Friday. For several reasons, first of all because I made a cut for the first time in seven years but also because it was Seve’s birthday and I miss him a lot and, with all those things combined, it was a very emotional day,” explained the 55-year-old.

Related: New Seve Book Released

Olazabal won here in 1994 and 1999 and, had the 72nd hole gone a little differently, he might have upstaged Ian Woosnam in 1991.

Since 2000 there have also been three more top 10s showing quite how well tuned he is to getting it round at Augusta and hence why Jon Rahm was spending so much time with him on the range a few months ago.

People rave about Phil Mickelson’s short game but the left-hander rates Olazabal right up there.

“His short game is one of the best that's ever been. What's so great about his short game over here is he gets the ball running on the ground. Because the rye grass is wet, you'll see balls skip, and on 3 (on Saturday) I drove it down there in front of the green, I bumped it into the hill, and it skips. But when it's dry, you can't hit that shot, and Olazabal is able to get that ball rolling through better than I've ever seen. He chips with a 4-iron, 6-iron, 8-iron, whatever he needs to get the ball chasing through the grass.

“If I try to hit that shot on 3 when it's dry, it just grabs it, pops the ball straight up, and it comes right back down on my feet. He would be able to hit that shot with 5, 6, 7-iron and get it running up with incredible touch. I've always enjoyed watching his skill because I'm really not great at that shot, and he is the best in the world. It helped him score well this week.”

For Olazabal hopefully this is the start of some better things to come.

“I still need to improve certain areas of my game, mainly the driver. It's true that I hit a lot of fairways but still not as sharp as the rest of the game, and that's the area that I need to improve on, but if I do that, the rest of the game at least was pretty nice. I was really pleased to see the course hard and fast, it reminded me of when we played it in the late 80s and early 90s, in those days it was not as demanding off the tee as it is today but the way I played I’m proud of myself. I know the chances of me making the cut are very slim, in conditions like this I have a better chance as everyone is going to miss greens and my short game is usually quite good and I can take advantage of that.

“The idea is to play as much as possible on the Champions Tour and see if I can somehow enjoy the game as I did this week.”

Mark Townsend
Contributing editor

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.