Olazábal Conquers New Torrey Pines
by Martin Olivera
Spaniard José María Olazábal won the 2002 Buick Invitational in "conquistador" fashion. He came, he played, he conquered. "Chema" shot a final round 65 to edge third round leaders Mark O'Meara and J.L. Lewis by one shot. His final score was 275, 13 under par. He earned $648,000 for his sixth victory on the PGA TOUR. Sixteenth century Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo, the discoverer of San Diego Bay, probably never played golf, but he would have been proud. Olazábal became the first non-American to win this tournament since Gary Player did it in 1963.
It wasn't all roses for Olazábal this week, in spite of celebrating his 36th birthday on Tuesday. On Friday he made the cut on the number after posting rounds of 71 and 72. "I thought I wasn't going to make the cut, actually", said the Spaniard. "But the weekend was great", he added. He shot a solid 67 on Saturday and started the last round four shots back. He birdied four holes on the front nine, and four more on the back, including three in a row (#13, #14, #15). He carded only one bogey, on #16. "I first looked at the leaderboard on #15, after birdieing #13 and #14 (to go to 12-under). But the decisive hole perhaps was #15. "That's when I started thinking about winning the tournament. I made that putt and I thought I had a good chance (of winning)". He finished in spectacular fashion, almost holing out a lob-wedge shot from 94 yards which left him an uphill two-foot birdie putt.
O'Meara and JL Lewis battled mano-a-mano for most of the final round. The two veterans started at 10-under tied for the lead. Lewis was one shot ahead after nine holes thanks to three birdies, on the two par-3 holes (#3 and #8) and on the par-5 #6. O'Meara also birdied three holes on the front nine, but made bogey on #7. There was a two-shot swing on #11, when the former Escondido resident birdied and Lewis bogeyed. O'Meara bogeyed #12, but Lewis did on #13 and followed it with a birdie on the difficult #14. The last two holes had two two-shot swings for this twosome. O'Meara bogeyed-birdied and Lewis birdied-bogeyed. The latter was more costly. It was a 3-putt bogey that cost Lewis a spot in an a playoff for the champioship. It's hard to win any tournament making bogeys on the back nine par-5 holes on the final day. And #13 was again pivotal. Olazábal birdied it, whereas O'Meara parred and Lewis bogeyed.
Other players having good performances and climbing close to the top were crowd favorite John Daly, who finished tied for 4th place at 11-under; and Tiger Woods who scored a 66 which tied him for 5th place at 10-under. It's Tiger's fifth top-5 finish at the Buick Invitational in as many tournaments, including a win in 1999. Former local junior golfer Chris Riley shot a final round 69 for a 279 total and a tie for 8th place.
Olazábal's final round 65 was the new course record for about one minute. He posted it at 2:05pm, and at 2:06pm Greg Chalmers, who started his round on the 10th hole, posted a 63 to establish a new scoring record for this "new" South course. "I hit some really nice iron shots. But in all honestly I holed everything I looked at today. It was an amazing day with the blade", said Chalmers. He made 10 birdies and a lone bogey (on #14).
The South course averaged just above par for the day: 72.404. The wind was not as strong as yesterday, so scores were slightly lower. The toughest hole was #4 (4.449) and the easiest was #6 (4.685). Overall this week, the new South averaged 73.153, #4 played the hardest at 4.423 and #6 the easiest at 4.739. In comparison, the North course, which was played only Thursday and Friday, averaged 69.743, with #11 playing the hardest at 4.184 and #14 the easiest at 4.461.
San Diego Golf Pages | 2002 Buick Invitational