THE marquee names of golf went into hiding during the final round of the Masters tournament Sunday in Augusta, Ga., when a Spaniard whose middle name is Maria (Jose Maria Olazabal) and Minnesotan Tom Lehman, who is still looking for his first victory after more than a decade of professional play, ascended the leader board.
It was the type of no-name finish that might spell ``nightmare'' for broadcasters at any other tournament, but not at the Masters, where the biggest star of the weekend was visible in every shot aired to an estimated 100 million international viewers. The Augusta National Golf Club course took most of the bows, as its linoleum-slick greens and challenging hole placements put the world's best shotmakers at its mercy.
No one came through unscathed, but Olazabal, whose bushy hair is longer than even the rough at Augusta National, turned in the best score, playing the final three rounds under par to finish at 279. That was two shots better than Lehman's score.
The 15th hole was decisive. Olazabal scored an eagle 3 on this par 5, but flirted with disaster when his approach shot came within a foot or so of catching a slope that led down into a pond in front of the green. From the short rough just off the green, Olazabal sank a 30-foot putt, while Lehman came about an inch short on his eagle attempt, thus falling two strokes back.
Though a virtual unknown in the United States, Olazabal tied for seventh at last year's Masters, where Europeans have now won six of the last seven years. ``I have won 18 tournaments,'' said Olazabal, the son of a Spanish greenskeeper, whose previous best US effort was a record-setting victory in the 1990 World Series of Golf. ``I think that is pretty good.''
Lehman theorizes that Europeans have come to dominate the Masters because they are more creative around the greens than Americans are. ``We're better at the flop shot from US Open-type rough, because that's what's around most of the greens we play,'' he says. ``But miss the greens here [at the Masters] and you need the bump-and-run shots to get back on. Most Americans are afraid of that shot because they never have to play it.'' Touching other bases
* The Augusta National Golf Club upheld one of its longstanding, peculiar traditions over the weekend by refusing to give out attendance figures for the Masters. Jack Stephens, the chairman of the tournament, says that he doesn't feel comfortable breaking with the policies upheld by Clifford Roberts, his unbending and powerful predecessor. News-media estimates place the daily galleries, which the club restricts, at about 40,000.
* If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, the popular movie reviewers of television's ``Sneak Previews'' fame, must like what's been happening in Dallas. Tim Legler and Popeye Jones, who play for the National Basketball Association's lowly Dallas Mavericks, give their opinions of recent video releases during each home game. The 60-second critiques, which include movie footage, are pre-taped, then shown on the Reunion Arena scoreboard.