Olazabal rolls back years as he reaches Irish Open midway point on seven under
Spaniard has won 23 European Tour titles in his career but none since the Mallorca Classic in 2005
Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal during day two of the Irish Open at Carlton House in Maynooth. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
His affinity with the Irish Open goes back a long way, to the time when he was a fledgling tour professional hinting at greatness.
Jose Maria Olazabal’s debut in the championship came as a tour rookie at Portmarnock in 1986 and, four years later, when the country was immersed in the madness of Italia ‘90, he briefly diverted sporting attention away from that World Cup as he captured the title on the north Dublin links.
Much has happened in the 23 years since Olazabal claimed that Irish Open championship: the Spaniard became a two-time Major winner, winning the US Masters in 1994 and again in 1999; he battled with illness, overcoming a condition called rheumatoid polyarthritis in the joints of both feet that threatened to prematurely end his career; and he captained Europe to probably the most remarkable of all Ryder Cup victories last year, in what became known as the ‘Miracle of Medinah’.
If that was a miracle, what would this be? Can he reel in the years? Olazabal has won 23 European Tour titles in his career but none since the Mallorca Classic in 2005.
His captaincy of the Ryder Cup team was wonderful and magical, yet it seemed as if the playing deeds of others would be what put the icing on the cake. His captaincy would be the defining moment of his career.
Yet, Ollie hasn’t simply marched off into the distance. Here he is, back at an Irish Open, and pushing his 47-year-old body to its limits.
Since triumphing at Portmarnock in that summer of 1990, Olazabal has returned time and time again to add lustre to the Irish Open, gracing one venue after another.
A loyalist to one of those tournaments which first offered an opporuntity to his talents. Killarney. Mount Juliet. Druids Glen. Ballybunion. Fota Island. Baltray. Royal Portrush. Now, Carton House.
The other day, before a shot had been hit in anger in this latest edition of the Irish Open, Olazábal could be seen walking from the range in search of the first tee.
Down the hill he walked, with his caddie. A couple of teenagers started to follow, slowly at first before picking their moment and thrusting paper in his direction for an autograph.
He signed, then signalled his caddie to take a photo for the two as he posed with them without a care in the world.
No sooner was the photo taken, than more autograph hunters arrived on the scene. He stayed until he had signed each and every one of them, before resuming his walk to Carton House’s first tee.
Yesterday, Olazabal signed for a second round 69 to reach the midway point on 137, seven-under par, and in contention for another Irish Open.
Afterwards, Olazabal was asked if he would delve into the memory bank to recall moments from his win at Portmarnock?
“At the moment, no, obviously there’s two more days to go, a lot of golf to be played, and my main goal to be honest is to improve certain areas of my game, and to put myself in a situation like this come Sunday. But you know, Sunday is a little bit far away.
“We will have to wait and see what happens at the weekend.
“I’m just taking every day at a time. I’m trying to regain my form and that’s my goal at the moment.”
But he was smiling and loving it, back in the thick of it all. As a player. What he is.