Olazabal birdied his last hole in a two-under-par 70 on day one of the BMW Italian Open in Turin.
However, Sweden’s Joel Sjoholm, again decked out in his plus fours, leads the way after an eight-under-par 64, under a ‘preferred lie’ rule, by a stroke from England’s Lee Slattery on the Royal Park course.
Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin is the best of the six Irish, closing with two birdies to post a five-under-par 67 a day before his 32nd birthday.
Olazabal had spent a serious amount of time on the practice range last weekend in Holland after missing the cut in the KLM Open.
The effort resulted in him leading his team to victory in Wednesday’s Italian Open Pro-Am but that did not translate into his play on day one of the €1.5m event, as he signed off for a round of 70.
Not surprisingly, Olazabal headed straight for the range but when stopped by two fans for a photograph, it allowed the chance of a few words with Europe’s captain, and an inspection of his hands.
Olazabal held out his palms to reveal hands covered in blisters and sores.
“If you know any other way to work on your game than spend time on the range, then let me know,” he said smiling.
“I want to compete and I am working hard at it trying to get some feel for what I have to do but it’s been hard. So as long as I can keep hitting balls that is what I want to do.”
He then resumed his walk to the range but sounding a smiling warning on the efforts of McIlroy, who has won three of his last four events.
“I just hope that Rory is not too hot too early,” said Olazabal.
“I just hope also he can save a bunch of birdies for the end of the month.”
Maybin was stuck in the slow lane to be one under par for his opening 10 holes but then took to the overtaking lane to play his closing eight in five under.
The Ballyclare player is also still the only Irish golfer competing in Europe not to have tasted success on the European Tour.
“I putted really well today holing a few big ones and taking only 26 putts, so it’s nice to be right up there,” said Maybin.
“So to hole out as well as I did was pretty encouraging.”
And helping turn around Maybin’s form was a decision to begin working with new coach Johnny Foster, who works out of Antrim’s Greenacres Club.
“I’ve known Johnny all my life and he’s a really good friend, and he’s turned into a pretty good coach,” said Maybin. “I turned to him about a month ago and his work has definitely help, and aside from being able to spot what I might be doing wrong, he’s also known me so long as a person.
“Johnny was a pretty good player himself as we represented Ballyclare in Ulster and Ireland matches.”
Shane Lowry is next best with a 70 while Michael Hoey carded a 71, Simon Thornton ar 72 and Damien McGrane a 73.