This Masters champion threw out his back Sunday. His finish was an inspiration

Jose maria olazabal grabs his back on Sundat at the 2024 Masters

Jose Maria Olazabal grabs his back on the 13th green at the Masters.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jose Maria Olazabal was clearly not going to make excuses. The two-time Masters champion was asked four questions after his round, a round in which he grinded out a tally of 72, even par. Multiple of those questions centered around his “being back” or “coming back” next year. Never “how is your back doing?”

Why? Well, he never mentioned it.

Olazabal’s back seized up during the back nine Sunday, somewhere on the 13th hole, and we’d have no reason to ask about it were it not for Camilo Villegas, his playing partner, who volunteered it to reporters after the round. 

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“Let me tell you, what he did today,” Villegas told the media. “Enough talking about me today. What he did today was very impressive. He battled so hard and then he birdies 10 … Then he pulled his back on No. 13. I thought he was not going to continue to play on the 14th tee.”

It was the second shot on the 13th hole that appeared to push Olazabal’s 58-year-old body over the edge. His 67th hole of the tournament, an event he planned on playing just 36 holes of. But there he was 3-wood in hand, ripping through the pine straw right of the 13 fairway and gingerly reaching his right hand back toward his spine. That’s never good. 

Olazabal had no issues getting up and down from the back of the green, only he started to move very gingerly with each step, bracing his weight on the putter handle every time he went to take his ball out of the hole. 

What happened next hurt to watch. But also inspired. 

Olazabal made quick swings, stepping out of his follow-through to ease the rotation strain on his back. On the 15th tee, he almost went down to his knees. But he gutted through it. Grimacing with each step. Deep breaths. Fairway to layup, a wedge on the green and made putt for birdie. 

Jose Maria Olazabal deals with back pain on Sunday at the Masters. CBS

When he tugged his tee shot on 17 into the nearby 7th fairway, it was time for a long iron shot, which appeared to bother him most. His knees buckled slightly. He reached back with his right hand once again. He took two steps forward and then half-stumbled for two more steps before gathering himself and walking upright again. Every movement seemed to hurt. 

How this man could finish without leading with this context says a good bit. 

“I’m just praying that tee shot on the last was going to go straight for him,” Villegas said later. And it did. 

But it didn’t look comfy. Olazabal was bending his right knee throughout his contact now, making it as loose as swing as could be. He bent over at the hip after hitting his approach into 18. When he made an 8-footer for par, he had done it. An even-par 72. Five shots better than Tiger Woods. Eight shots better than Tony Finau. The sorest back in the field. And not a peep about it. 

Thank goodness for Villegas. 

“It was a pleasure to watch him grind today, play with pain, and yeah, I guess he showed me the champion he is.”

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