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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

O'Meara's Overnight Success Story, 18 Years in the Making

April 17, 1998|THOMAS BONK

It's a streak that had to end for Mark O'Meara--0 for 56 in major golf tournaments. Until last Sunday at the Masters, O'Meara hadn't finished in the top five in a major since 1992.

And why is that? Many times, the critics pointed to his lifestyle rather than his golf game: too easygoing, too down-to-earth, too nice.

O'Meara is a straight shooter, all right, especially on the course, where all he did was beat the best players in the game on one of the game's greatest layouts.

And all of a sudden, after 18 years as a pro, the 41-year-old O'Meara is an overnight success. He may have won 15 tournaments and more than $9 million, but those are not the defining aspects of O'Meara's career--not like winning a major title.

O'Meara enjoyed poking fun at himself and his career drawbacks.

He said people used to tell him he never won the Masters, but he did. "The Australian Masters." And they said he never had won an Open. "I have," he said. "The Canadian Open."

O'Meara said golf always has been based on performance and he was comfortable with that.

"It's always been based around performances in major championships," he said. "I know there have been comments about why I haven't won a major championship.

"I don't think anyone was ever critical.

"I've said, I'm a good player, I wouldn't classify myself as a great player."

MASTERS WRAP-UP

Three players you don't have to feel sorry for: Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Jack Nicklaus.

Someone to feel sorry for: Ernie Els.

Woods was far from playing his best golf at the Masters--he tied for eighth--but unlike some other recent majors, such as the British Open and the PGA--he was in there grinding it out until the end.

He was under extreme pressure to defend his Masters title with another victory and even though he didn't do it, he was gracious and upbeat throughout.

"My swing wasn't quite there," Woods said. "I was getting stuck a little bit. I was over-rotating my shoulders going back. My shoulder turn is so big. My hips don't move and my shoulder moves past the 90-degree mark."

Couples had one bad hole Sunday--his double-bogey seven on No. 13--but he wasn't upset.

"If I go out and play well and get beat, there's not much you can do about it," he said.

As for Nicklaus, his 18 major titles speak for themselves, but being able to compete on such a stage as the Masters at age 58 is absolutely stunning.

If Nicklaus hadn't three-putted No. 4 and No. 12 for bogey and managed to convince a few other putts to drop, he would have been right there.

Maybe O'Meara might have messed up, worrying about Nicklaus.

Woods said he felt sorry for Els, who was paired with Nicklaus on the last day.

"He mentioned to me on No. 8 when I walked past him that he needed some earplugs," Woods said.

CASEY ON THE MOUND

So Casey Martin threw out the first pitch at a San Francisco Giant home game last week, an appearance made possible by his main sponsor, Nike.

Martin rode a golf cart to the mound, driven by the team mascot, a seal named Lou. (Lou Seal, get it?)

Lou even planted a flagstick at home plate to make Martin feel more comfortable. Alas, even after getting some pointers from Giant Manager Dusty Baker in the clubhouse, Martin bounced a pitch in the dirt.

Baker turned out to be a big fan of Martin's, as did Orel Hershiser. Baker said the criticism of Martin by other players is unwarranted.

"Those other dudes were just plain wrong," he said.

Meanwhile, Martin is trying to get his game right. After winning the first Nike Tour event of the year, Martin has missed three cuts in his last five tournaments. He did finish tied for 16th at Austin, Texas, and tied for 13th at Monterrey, Mexico, and he's No. 2 on the Nike Tour money list with $47,407.

RATINGS GAME

The national TV ratings for the Masters show a two-day average of 8.6 and a 24 share with a two-day estimated audience of 42.2 million.

The numbers for Saturday's third round were a 6.6 rating and 20 share. Sunday's fourth round had a rating of 10.2 and a 28 share--a 50% increase from 1993, the last time the fourth round of the Masters was held on Easter Sunday.

As for the ratings of the Nabisco Dinah Shore, the first women's major of the year, the news is not as good.

On Saturday, March 28, the Nabisco Dinah Shore had a 0.8 rating and 3.0 share; then a 1.0 rating and 3.0 share on Sunday.

The Saturday rating was down 38% from 1997 and Sunday's was down 9%.

OK, OK, OK

He is not alone in his view, but Vijay Singh doesn't like talking to the media. In fact, he hates it.

Singh missed the cut at the Masters to end a 53-tournament streak, so he was approached by reporters afterward for a reaction.

It was a rather brief one.

"Go away, go away, go away," he said.

Even though he missed the cut, Singh does get this nice parting gift--the Quote of the Week Award.

HE'S NO. 1

It didn't take very long for Els to understand the significance of the No. 1 position in the world rankings, which Els achieved this week when he replaced Woods.

Said Els: "It comes into play when you're negotiating new contracts."

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