José María Olazábal is set to make his long-awaited comeback from a protracted injury battle at this week’s British Masters supported by Sky Sports.
The two-time Major winner and victorious 2012 European Ryder Cup Captain will makes his first appearance in more than 18 months at The Grove, before heading straight to the Portugal Masters.
Olazábal has been forced to take several breaks from the game during his career due to an ongoing problem with rheumatoid arthritis that has flared up throughout his illustrious 31 years on the European Tour.
During that period he has amassed 23 European Tour titles, but it was the second of his two Masters Tournament wins in 1999 that was seen as his major triumph over adversity, as he battled back from the foot injury that almost ended his career.
Olazábal, who is now also eligible for the Senior Tour after turning 50 in February, believes the next few weeks of action will be crucial in determining his next steps, after being confined to the side-lines since the Masters Tournament in March 2015. He finished ninth at the Hassan II Trophy in Morocco earlier that month, the last time he played four rounds, before shooting a 71 in the second round at Augusta National.
He said: “I am very excited to compete again. I want to see how the body can cope with the regular competition rhythm of practice and 18 holes. Lately, I’ve played 18 holes two days, nine holes another two days – I’ve been alternating that way.
“The two weeks at the British Masters and Portugal Masters will be a good test to see if I can stand up all day. I want to see how it goes during the two weeks, and that will help me to take a decision on whether I will keep on playing the European Tour or the senior circuit next season. We’ll see how it goes.
“The problem is due to an inflammation of the extremities of the tendons, and it’s been a long process of recovery. I hit rock bottom last December and started improving slowly from January.
“Although I’m feeling better, I’m still not at a 100 per cent. The pain is not so bad now, it gets a bit painful from time to time but I think that’s just getting old!”
After his first Masters win in 1994, Olazábal missed the 1996 tournament as he recovered from rheumatoid polyarthritis in three joints of his right foot and two in his left. He spent 18 months out amid fears that he could be confined to a wheelchair, but battled back to secure a second Green Jacket in 1999.
The Spaniard modestly hopes for a low-key comeback this time around, in his first British Masters appearance since 2004.
Of course, Olazábal is no stranger to comebacks having masterminded possibly the greatest in European golf history at Medinah in 2012, as his Ryder Cup team overcame a 10-6 deficit in the final day singles to edge a thrilling contest 14½-13½. As he prepares for another, he jokes that his previous exploits may have been forgotten following his extended absence.
“I would like my comeback to competition to be as discreet as possible,” he said. “I don’t think I’m the big news story, that belongs to the younger players, like Rory McIlroy hitting the driver to 388 yards, Brooks Koepka’s four iron to 224 meters, spectacular shots to the flag.
“In any case, I’ve been out of the European Tour for such a long time that I will need to introduce myself at the driving range at The Grove and Oceânico Victoria. My opening line might need to be ‘Hello, I am José María, nice to meet you’.”
By Mª Acacia López-Bachiller