Golf

Westwood salutes Olazabal

2011-01-17 19:47

Abu Dhabi - World number one Lee Westwood has hailed 'Captain Fantastic' Jose Maria Olazabal on the eve of the Spaniard's expected appointment as Europe's 2012 Ryder Cup skipper.

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In recent years the new captain for the biennial team event has been voted on at a formal 15-man Tournament Players Committee meeting.

That has not been necessary this time with chairman Thomas Bjorn conducting a phone poll over the Christmas period, and the popular Olazabal becoming a unanimous choice to succeed Colin Montgomerie after last year's win over United States in Wales.

"Jose Maria has been a great Ryder Cup player and when he was involved with the vice-captaincy at Valhalla (in 2008) and at Celtic Manor (in 2010) he's been superb," Westwood told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

"When Jose Maria conducts a team talk or motivational talk everyone listens. He will bring leadership, experience and passion, and is going to be fantastic when he leads the team at Medinah (near Chicago)."

The 44-year-old Olazabal's appointment is set to be confirmed in a European Tour news conference at 13:30 local time (09:30 GMT) on Tuesday at the venue for this week's Abu Dhabi Championship.

The 1994 and 1999 U.S. Masters winner is also making his debut at the Abu Dhabi Championship, the first event of the European Tour's four-week Desert Swing that also ventures into Bahrain, Qatar and finally Dubai.

Olazabal has been dogged by injuries and ill-health, including losing two years to rheumatoid arthritis in his feet in the mid-1990s.

He has suffered with rheumatic pain in his back and shoulders for the past two years.

Olazabal's manager Sergio Gomez told Reuters last month the Spaniard was still in some discomfort, but that his fitness had improved and he planned to play all four tournaments in the Desert Swing.

He featured in only three competitive European Tour events in 2010 but Westwood said it would not matter how much the captain-elect played on the circuit in the build-up to Medinah.

"Everyone knows Ollie and no, I don't see it as a problem if he is not around and playing that much," said the Briton.

"He should play enough events that will keep him abreast of what the likely team members are doing so that shouldn't be a problem."

Olazabal has played in seven Ryder Cups, and combined with his good friend Seve Ballesteros to form the most successful partnership in the team event, winning 11, halving two and losing two of their 15 matches together.

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