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Mark O'Meara glad to finally be back in form

If he has recovered from jet lag, Mark O'Meara should have a new spring in his step at the Honda Classic after winning the Dubai Desert Classiclast Sunday.

Winning a tournament can do that for any player. If you're a 47-year-old who has not won in nearly six years, victory is an added lift. Especially if the world's No. 1 and No. 3 players are among those staring up at you on the final leaderboard.

O'Meara's last official win prior to Dubai was the 1998 British Open. He had already won the Masters that same year. There were a couple of unofficial victories since the majors -- the Cisco World Match Play later in '98 and the 2002 Skins Game.

Other than that, O'Meara had a good season in 1999, then slumped in 2000 and 2001. He picked up his play in 2002, then stumbled badly last season, finishing 143rd on PGA Tour earning list.

He is using a one-time exemption this season as one of the top 25 career Tour money winners. O'Meara had shown some progress this season prior to his European Tour victory, finishing in a tie for 16th in his first tournament, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. He also made the cut at the FBR Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach but missed weekend play in both the Buick Invitational and Nissan Open.

O'Meara admits he was hurting two weeks ago at the Nissan.

"It was a battle," he said in Dubai. "I was hurt. I couldn't turn through the ball. I think probably I've got a little too much weight on, to be honest with you."

His back was giving him so such trouble that his trip to Dubai with long-time pal Tiger Woods was questionable.

"I didn't hit any balls for practice until Thursday or Friday of last week. I was starting to feel a little bit better, been doing some stretching and things like that at night and in the morning. I knew it was a long trip sitting on the airplane."

O'Meara started well in Dubai, shooting a 2-under-par 70 in the opening round, the same as Woods and world No. 3 Ernie Els.

After that, however, O'Meara and Ireland's Paul McGinley pretty much dominated the next three rounds. O'Meara shot a brilliant 64 in the second round, while McGinley, who had opened with a 68, had a 65.

In the end, O'Meara took a one-shot victory over McGinley, while Els was four back and Woods, who stood at the 18th and watched O'Meara come home, was five behind.

One of the keys to O'Meara's win was his putting, which was very good all week, but dead-on in round two when he needed only 23 putts. For the 72 holes, O'Meara had only one three-putt green.

That's a dramatic improvement over last season, when O'Meara ranked 140th on Tour in putting.

O'Meara attributes the improvement -- to his new grip, which he calls "the saw."

The saw is a variation on the claw, which Chris DiMarco, among others, has made popular.

"I put my left hand on normally, and I put my three fingers on the top of my putter shaft and I'm using my pinky kind of as a guide," O'Meara explained. "I put my finger right on the back end of this putter grip and I'm kind of holding it, I don't feel it all the way back. So there's a little bit of space between my putter and the palm. And I'm just putting my three fingers on top."

O'Meara calls it "the saw" because it reminds him of the motion in sawing wood.

"What it's done is basically kind of locked my wrist in," O'Meara said. "You're talking about a guy who stood there on the 18th green at Augusta National four or five years ago and made the putt, but to be honest, early in the week at Augusta that year in '98, still had a little bit of yip in my stroke."

O'Meara worked with the stroke and found he could once again depend on his stroke and make putts. The saw grip, O'Meara said, did nothing less than "rejuvenate" his career.

The best result thus far was in Dubai.

"To go 5 1/2, almost 6 years without a victory, hey, what can you say? It's a special moment for me," O'Meara said. "So I'm very thankful, I feel very privileged. And to have Tiger Woods standing there on the 18th green giving me a big bear hug, it shows the kind of heart this guy has.

"He genuinely cares about me as a friend and a person, and that meant a lot to know that he was there for me, too, when I finished up on the 18th. He knows it's been a long time coming for me. He's always pushing me and telling me that I can still do it."

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