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Mark O'Meara returns to happy hunting ground

This year, though few know it, is the farewell tour for Mark O'Meara on the PGA Tour. The 49-year-old is making this season his last as he prepares for the Champions Tour next year.

This week's stop is a place that is synonymous with O'Meara. He has won the $5.4 million AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am five times and continues to be one of the tournament's biggest supporters.

"I've got phenomenal golf memories here," O'Meara said. "I think a lot of it (his success) is from using those past memories."

Even when O'Meara didn't win, he had high finishes. In 24 appearances, he has eight top 10s and 12 top 25 finishes.

"I would say to myself, you know what, 'I've done this before. The other guys I'm playing with, they haven't won here,'" O'Meara said. "That's the way you got to talk to yourself."

O'Meara hasn't won since winning both the Masters and British Open in 1998 and is approaching 50 and thinking more about the Champions Tour.

"This is really kind of my swan song on the regular tour," said O'Meara, who turns 50 on January 13. "It's my 26th year and kind of really my last year, unless I am fortunate enough to play well and win a tournament this year."

Which O'Meara believes is a possibility, but definitely a challenge.

"Listen, a 50-year old guy trying to play against a 24-year-old guy is why would you do that?" O'Meara said. "I'm not saying you can't win, but the odds are stacked against you a little bit more because when guys are hitting it 40 to 50 yards by you every hole, they have a big advantage."

Distance has concerned a lot of golfers, including O'Meara and the former member of the PGA Tour Policy Board said the strategy on dealing with long hitters is misguided.

"You don't neutralize power players by making the courses longer in my opinion," O'Meara said. "You make the courses longer, they already have an advantage, now you're giving them more of an advantage. That's not real smart is, it?"

That is why O'Meara has enjoyed Pebble Beach so much, because unlike last week at the sun baked FBR Open, the emphasis is not on distance.

"That's what makes it the best place on earth," he said. "You can have such a variety of conditions, and that's what makes a golf course great and that's what makes this courses really stand the test of time."

O'Meara has said that if he had one last round to play in his life it would be Pebble Beach and he will continue to play here as long as he is welcome.

"Maybe one year I will have my son come and play with me," O'Meara said. "I like to play here at Pebble just because of everything it's meant to me."

One person that doesn't share O'Meara's love of this tournament is his friend, Tiger Woods. The last time Woods played this event was 2002, citing the long rounds and bumpy greens as the reason for leaving it off his schedule.

"He had a one-footer one year, he could make it with his eyes closed," O'Meara said. "It didn't go in. That's it, I'm done. So you know, there are plenty of tournaments for him to play."

The field at this event is strong even without Woods. Four of the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings are here; Vijay Singh (2) Phil Mickelson (4), Jim Fuyrk (7) and Chris DiMarco (8).

O'Meara is hopeful his game is ready this week.

"I feel comfortable, not overly confident," O'Meara said. "I feel better with the way I stroke it now and I putted decent in San Diego. I always welcome the challenge."

O'Meara has played in two events this year. He finished tied for 75th at the Bob Hope Classic and finished tied for 16th at the Buick Invitational.

Winning a tournament is a goal, but O'Meara has struggled the last couple of years. The last two years he has had only one top 10 finish and had two of them in 2002, but the consistency he had 10 years ago is gone. The experience he has at this event, though, is an advantage.

"This course when you play on the greens here at Pebble Beach it takes a lot of local knowledge," O'Meara said. "I think the experience of understanding the course, putts, keeping the ball below the hole a lot here at Pebble is a big key. Pro-Am formats take a special guy to play well and win it."

February 9, 2006

 




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