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GOLF

Mark O'Meara shares lead at Newport Beach

Looking for his first senior win, he shoots a 66 and is tied with defending champion Bernhard Langer

March 08, 2009|James Wagner

The news the last few weeks at the O'Meara household, even though Mark is on the Champions Tour, has been about a fairly famous golfer named Tiger Woods.

When Woods recently returned from an eight-month hiatus thanks to knee surgery, people called O'Meara for a comment. The close friend, neighbor and mentor proclaimed the 33-year-old Woods was better than ever.

Saturday, however, people came asking solely about O'Meara.

"It's nice," said O'Meara, who shot a five-under-par 66 to finish tied with Bernhard Langer for the second-round lead in the Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach Country Club.

Then O'Meara, 52, digressed. "I enjoy talking about Tiger," he said, smiling. "He's like my younger brother."

The day's most satisfying feeling was redemption. "It's nice to start playing better," O'Meara said with a sigh after finishing at nine-under 133.

O'Meara, owner of 16 PGA Tour wins, but none since the Masters and British Open in 1998, has yet to win in 33 tries on the Champions Tour.

His game has been so distressing of late that the veteran said he was willing to ask anyone for help, even golf writers. Last season was especially tough. In between some personal struggles, he managed only two top-10 finishes in 16 events.

To fix his game, he consulted Woods' coach, Hank Haney, in December. A recent change of three clubs also helped, prompting him to humorously admit that "modern technology is a good thing."

And on Saturday it showed.

O'Meara had three birdies, an eagle and more important, zero bogeys, to quietly creep into the lead by the 16th hole, while others crumbled on the fast greens. A birdie putt on the final hole put him in a share of the lead entering the final round for the first time since October 2007.

Eduardo Romero, who led by as many as two strokes late in the day, struggled mightily over the final three holes. A birdie putt on the 18th hole couldn't make up for bogeys on 16 and 17. The Argentine finished with a 68, good for eight under overall and a spot in today's final group.

Langer, last year's winner, again failed to knock in needed putts, accumulating 32 of them in a 68. His saving grace: He hit a majority of his fairways (64%) and greens (89%).

"My birdies were pretty much either from close range or par-fives where I was on the green in two or something like that," Langer said.

About that Woods guy again . . .

"I think he'll be pulling for me tomorrow. And a lot of people will," said O'Meara, who grew up in Mission Viejo and played high school matches at Newport Beach. "And I'll be trying to give them my best out there."

--

james.wagner@latimes.com

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