Olazabal closes strong to capture Buick title

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, who won $648,000, 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.

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.

ACE Group Classic

NAPLES, Fla. -- Hale Irwin birdied two of the last three holes to pass Tom Watson and win the Senior PGA Tour ACE Group Classic by one shot.

Irwin won $225,000 of the $1.5 million purse and added to his Senior Tour record with his 33rd career victory at The Club at TwinEagles. The 56-year-old Irwin also passed the $20 million mark in combined earnings on the regular and Senior tours.

Irwin finished at 16-under 200 after a final-round 68. Watson was at 15-under 201 after a final-round 71.

-- From wire reports

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