Mon Aug 16, 2021

'It's in the air': Back at Firestone, Jose Maria Olazabal reflects on course record 61

Jose Maria Olazabal stepped to the 10th tee at Firestone Country Club with little fanfare Thursday as perhaps one hundred fans gathered to watch.

What transpired next was not a case of nerves, he said later, but more a reflection of the state of his swing.

A World Golf Hall of Famer making his first appearance in Akron since 2007, Olazabal pulled his drive into the rough on the adjoining ninth hole.

A 55-year-old Spaniard who was the first to post the South Course record of 61 in 1990, Olazabal showed he still has some magic in the hands that Champions Tour rival Jerry Kelly called “the best in the business.”

Olazabal split two massive oak trees, put his second shot on the green and saved par. On the par-5 16th hole dubbed “The Monster,” he calmly sank an 18-foot birdie.

As Steve Stricker raced to a four-shot lead in the first round of the $3 million Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, Olazabal proved he still knows his way around one of the most respected layouts on the PGA or Champions Tours. He posted a par 70 that left him seven strokes off the lead.

“Obviously the golf course is playing much different than when we played here before,” Olazabal said. “The golf course is much longer. It was quite breezy today. Even though the greens were holding, I'm hitting much longer clubs into the greens than I used to in those days and that makes it obviously more difficult.”

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