American golf's need for better public relations was met this weekend with a salve, reluctant but compelling. Spaniard Jose-Maria Olazabal's record-setting performance at the World Series of Golf brought him American recognition of his game, though few around the world needed to be introduced.
His 12-stroke victory at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, is the latest milestone for the 24-year-old, who has risen to third in the Sony world rankings, behind Greg Norman and Nick Faldo, and the $198,000 first prize lifted him into the year's top 30 money-winners.
"I am just trying to make my way," said Olazabal -- pronounced Oh-lohth-a-ball -- who led wire-to-wire after shooting a first-round 61. "The way you do that is to win tournaments. One of my goals was to win in the States. Now my goals are to win in the majors."
Al Geiberger's record of 59 at Memphis in 1977 might have fallen Thursday but for a couple of missed putts on the back nine. From there, Olazabal won in a walk, pairing with Hale Irwin for the final two rounds and parring hole after hole, never getting into trouble on Saturday until the final hole. And he parred that after a second shot got him out of deep rough, seven feet above the hole.
He ended all suspense each day with incredible play on the first two holes; for the combined eight holes, he was nine under par.
Some of CBS's analysts had scads of fun butchering his last name -- Gary McCord called him Jose-Maria I-lost-my-ball -- but his 18-under-par 262 broke Lanny Wadkins's course record by five strokes. He also set 18-, 36-, 54- and 72-hole records for both the tournament and the Firestone Country Club.
The euphoria of his first victory on the American tour did not change Olazabal's determination to stay with a limited American schedule -- even though he has a 10-year exemption from qualifying for U.S. PGA Tour events, and will probably qualify for the Nabisco Championship at the end of the season.
"It's a world game, so a golfer should play all over the world," he said. "The best players not only play all over the world, but the best of the best win all over the world. To prove you're good, you have to win everywhere."
Said Irwin: "It's not as if this is some brash, young, wet-behind-the-ears rookie. He's had some experience, Ryder Cup experience. He's a good ambassador for the game."
Olazabal last season was seventh in the Sony rankings, the three-year compilation of world standings. He began 1989 with a victory at Tenerife, then beat Roger Chapman and Ronan Raffery in sudden death in Kennemer, Holland, for the KLM Open championship.
But it was in Ryder Cup that Olazabal earned his stripes. He and Seve Ballesteros halved with Tom Watson and Chip Beck, then defeated Watson and Mark O'Meara in fourball, 6 and 5, and Mark Calcavecchia and Ken Green. On the final day Olazabal defeated Payne Stewart in dramatic match play, 1-up.
"He has a game ideally suited to our tour," Wadkins said. "I'd love to see him come over here and play. He'd be a great addition."