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O'Meara embracing next slice of life
Impressive resume precedes successful golfer.
By BOB HARIG
Published February 16, 2007
LUTZ - The backslapping, hugs, good-natured ribbing and welcoming handshakes are all part of the indoctrination to the Champions Tour for any successful golfer looking for new challenges.
For Mark O'Meara - a two-time major champion with 16 PGA Tour victories - it is quite a contrast from the last time he was starting out.
"That was a long time ago," he said Thursday on the eve of his Champions Tour debut in the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am. "Volkswagen Rabbit, the young wife, no money ... it was a little different."
No doubt. O'Meara drives a better car than he did in 1980. With his wife, Alicia, they have two teenagers. And he made more than $14-million on the PGA Tour.
"It's been a dream ride," said O'Meara, who capped his career with victories at the Masters and British Open in 1998. "When I look back at what's really transpired in my life and what's happened to me as a professional golfer ...
"When I first got my card in the fall of 1980, I was hoping to get on the tour and try to survive. Maybe get out and make some money, do well enough to stay on tour for a while. Then I started to do better and I was hoping to maybe someday win a tournament. That came true in 1984 when I won the Milwaukee Open. ... And I thought, no matter what, at least I won one tournament on the PGA Tour."
O'Meara played on five Ryder Cup and two Presidents Cup teams. He won in such places as Argentina, Australia, Dubai and France. And he defeated good friend Tiger Woods in the final of the 1998 World Match Play Championship.
It is that friendship O'Meara credits with helping him win two majors.
O'Meara had a nice, successful career before Woods turned pro late in 1996. The two had known each other but became friends when Woods moved to O'Meara's Isleworth neighborhood in Orlando. Woods' 1997 Masters victory and subsequent success - along with frequent practice rounds together at home and on the road - served as motivation.
"He really in a roundabout way kept me going," O'Meara said. "Before he burst on the scene and became my neighbor and like my younger brother ... I mean, I might not have won the two majors. He pushed me for sure. It's been fun. I have no regrets."
O'Meara, who turned 50 on Jan. 13, is expected to step onto the Champions Tour and have immediate success - something that is not as easy as it sounds. The past four years, he was unable to finish higher than 135th on the PGA Tour money list and had no top-10 finishes the past two years.
He played two events this year on the PGA Tour - the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (missed the cut) and the Buick Invitational (tied for 39th) - and in the Dubai Desert Classic (missed the cut) on the European PGA Tour.
"I think it takes a little while for you to get your feet fully on the ground," said Hale Irwin, who has been playing on the 50-and-over tour since 1995. "Nick (Price) and Mark are both very, very accomplished players, major-championship winners who have played all around the world. They know what it takes to win and they will do very, very well.
"As these guys come out and kind of go through the initial meet the press, meet the guys, do all of the new stuff and it becomes less of something new and they settle into their games, they are going to be very effective."
"It's going to be exciting, it's going to be fun, it's going to be new," O'Meara said. "I haven't been too excited about too many things about my game the last three years or so. Anytime you do something new, it kind of gets the juices flowing a little bit."
Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am
First round starts at 7:10 a.m. today, TPC Tampa Bay, Lutz. TV: 12:30 p.m, Golf Channel. Weather: Windy, cool, temperatures in the 50s.