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January 22, 2008

Mark O'Meara


CHRIS REIMER: Welcome, Mark. Some opening comments about 12 of the last 13 years you've been here for the tournament.
MARK O'MEARA: I don't know how many years I've played here. Certainly I grew up out here in southern California, and it's -- it's a spectacular place. I'm excited to be back. I certainly needed a sponsor's exemption. It was nice of the Century Club and Tom Wilson to grant that.
I know I'm 51 now and I know where I really belong, but I thought this year since the Open is going to be here this summer and I'm going to try and qualify maybe one more time -- I said last year after I tried to qualify maybe that was it. But the fact that it's going to be played here in San Diego at Torrey, I felt like I didn't want to go to Hawai'i this week, play in the senior event. I played in the Bob Hope last week, missed the cut, but yet I've been in the desert practicing so I'm excited about being here this week.
CHRIS REIMER: You mentioned you had lost a little weight, feeling good. Just talk about how you feel entering the season.
MARK O'MEARA: Yeah, I know, I felt like -- last year I played about 22, 23 tournaments worldwide, played 16 on the Champions Tour. I was disappointed that I didn't win. But I felt like on a scale of 0 to 10, I played at about an 8, something like that. I really played pretty well. I had four seconds. I know nobody remembers that. But overall I was fairly pleased with my performance.
You know, this year I'm going to try to practice a little harder, prepare a little bit more. Normally I'm up snowmobiling all winter and I don't come down to the desert until right before like the Hope. But this year I went down December 30th, and I've been down there pretty much practicing and playing.
I was playing well going into the Hope. I didn't play that well last week, missed the cut by a couple shots, shot 5-under. But hopefully this week some of the fond memories I've had in the past -- I won here in '97. Certainly it's a different golf course now than when I won in '97. It's a big-boy golf course out there for sure.
I played all right last year here. I made the cut. I think I finished 27th or something. So we'll see what happens this week.

Q. A lot has changed in the last ten years. It's become a power game now. Do you wish that you could go back or guys could learn maneuvering the ball, hitting the ball different directions? It's kind of a lost art out here.
MARK O'MEARA: It is. That's why it's kind of fun certainly to watch what Tiger has done, the way -- he has the power; that's not an issue. But the cool thing about Tiger Woods is he can hit an 8-iron 87 yards if he wants to. I think a lot of the other young players that are brought up in this modern era of power and distance, you have to hit the ball far to really compete nowadays. The creativity standpoint, that's kind of gone away, the fact that the equipment and the ball don't curve as much.
Would I like to see that change? As long as the equipment is legal, I have no problem with it. But I do agree with that. I think when I play with a player that plays some creative shots, that impresses me more than just somebody who's powerful and beats away.
You know, the conditions have kind of led into that. Everybody talks about how far everybody is hitting, and they think that's ruining the game. So they think, okay, to fix that we're just going to make the golf courses longer. But I'm not so sure that really fixes it because when you look at the game and you look at some of the most creative holes or the most talked-about holes in golf are usually the shortest ones. So it's kind of ironic that, okay, you can go play a 497- to 512-yard par-4, but it's pretty much bombs away.
Okay, the guys who are powerful are going to have a huge advantage over the average length players, and power players should have somewhat of an advantage. But I think if you want to mess with these guys you've got to create options. You've got to force them to think a little bit. There's more fear on a player's face when he's standing on the 12th tee at Augusta than there might be standing on the 12th tee at the South Course at Torrey Pines.

Q. What percentage of players do you think are shot-makers, creative players?
MARK O'MEARA: It's hard to say. I would say ballpark, I'd say -- it's not very high, the percentage. I don't know, 30 percent, 25 percent, a quarter of them. They just grew up in a different era. Certainly at one time Tiger was somewhat creative in his young era, but I spoke about this when I played the Merrill Lynch shootout this year with Anthony Kim as my partner, and everybody always asks me, I'm certainly 50, 51 and I've played for 27 years, but everybody asks who's the next young player to come along. Who's the next talented young player.
I see a lot of talented young players. Nothing really kind of jumped out at me until I played with this kid. I played with Anthony for three rounds there in Naples, and I was blown away. I was like -- I remember telling my wife, telling everybody how I thought, oh, my gosh, I haven't played that much with some of their top young players besides Tiger, and what I witnessed growing up and hanging around with him, this kid, I was like, whoa, this guy has got some game because he's play little shots. He'll move the ball a little bit even though it's hard to move it. Short game is good, he putted good, he has some length for his size. He hits it 30 by me. Everybody is pretty much by me. But he's not short.
Last week he'd been down in the desert practicing, and he finished third. He wants to win. He's got a little bit of an attitude, but he's grown up a lot. I think he's learned a lot by some of the things that happened to him last year. I tried to be a little bit of a friend to him and help him. I would expect big things out of him this year.

Q. How astonishing is it what Tiger has done in this era with so many good players?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, it's phenomenal. I mean, it's absolutely unbelievable. Not only the depth of fields are greater now, the quality of players are greater, the equipment is better, the physical conditioning is better. Everything is better. Everything gets better in life. You guys are all better writers. Seriously, think about it.

Q. We do.
MARK O'MEARA: I'm just kind of stroking your ego a little bit (laughter).
Tiger, I can't think -- there's only one other athlete that's coming close, and that would be Roger Federer in tennis, but Tiger has set the standard so high in all the professional sports, and it just happens to be golf. The way he's dominated the game, his winning percentage when he plays, the 60-some odd tournaments he's won and the 13 majors. Listen, I can never say enough about what I think of what Tiger has accomplished.
Plus the fact that he lives under so much more scrutiny and media attention and hype than any other player that's ever played the game. Jack played under some and Arnold, but I don't think they played under near the expectations that this young man is being placed under, and the guy keeps delivering. Other guys come and go, they'd come in, they'd be the No. 1 player, and all the things that come along with that, it's hard to deal with. But yet he keeps dealing with it. He doesn't play that much. He played, what, maybe 16 TOUR events last year, 18?

Q. 16 TOUR events.
MARK O'MEARA: 16 plus maybe Dubai and he played his tournament and The Presidents Cup. So he played like 19 weeks. I know he's got a lot of commitments with his foundation and commercials and things like that. But when that guy comes to play, how can you bet against him? You just can't.
I know he's trying to go for, what, a four-peat this week? If somebody asked me, if I had $10 I'd put it on him. But I don't know what his winning percentage is, just under 30 percent. So you can take the field -- you'd like to take the field, but then you say, wait a minute, the guy has got a good track record here, he loves the course. He's preparing for major championships, they're going to have the Open here. I know the course will be set up a little differently for the U.S. Open, but even so, his name will be right towards the top come Sunday afternoon.

Q. He said earlier this year that the calendar Grand Slam was easily within reason, which is a pretty strong comment from him. It shows I would think what he thinks about his game right now. You talked about expectations a minute ago. This is going to probably set them even higher.
MARK O'MEARA: I believe so. I think it will. I know there was probably moments last year with Elin having the baby, a lot of things, the fact that he lost his dad the year before. Sometimes people's focus can vary at different stages of your career. But I had Hank Haney down a couple weeks ago and we were playing golf, and we were just kind of talking, and I talked to Tiger a couple times this winter, not very much but a little bit, and I reckon he's as focused as ever and fired up and ready to go.
And knowing that he's, what, 32 now, something like that, 31, whatever he is, I'd say he's very prepared for this year. He very easily could win all four majors.

Q. Are golfers afraid of him?
MARK O'MEARA: No, I don't think so anymore. I really don't. There's nothing to be afraid of. The fact that he's as good as he is, I think the players accept that and they see it and they know it. So my feeling is I can't control what he's doing, and I know he's going to bring it. I've just got to figure out a way that I can do better, make more putts. That's what it comes down to. Even though he hits the ball so well, he's a great putter, so you have to beat him somewhere and it's usually on the greens. You're not going to beat him mentally or by saying something or acting a certain way or thinking you're -- certainly you have to do it your own way because that's what he's going to be doing out there.
But it is different because most of the guys or some younger players or whatever, when they get in that final group with Tiger on Sunday, either here or mostly in a major championship, the familiarity of being in that position is a little more foreign to most players, whereas to Tiger Woods it's just another Sunday in the final group at a major.
When you've had success, you can build on that success and use that success as a comfort zone that you can be in when you're out there playing. Don't think there hasn't been times when he's out there playing on Sunday when he's done it before and the guy next to him hasn't. So that's a big plus.

Q. I just wanted to ask about the venue, what you think of it as a U.S. Open venue. How is it going to be? Do you believe it's going to be a good one?
MARK O'MEARA: Oh, I do. Listen, San Diego is a great town. This is a beautiful area. It's one of the most pristine pieces of property in the world besides certainly Monterey. You know, the changes that have happened here over the last five years that Rees has done, the golf course is going to be very demanding, very, very difficult, making No. 6 and No. 8 par-4s, making it par 70, I believe that's what they're going to do. I've heard that's what they're going to do. And even though the thing that's going to be maybe an issue is going to be the weather, the fog and stuff like that, but the course is definitely capable of holding a major championship.

Q. Do you think guys get any advantage from being here this week even though it's five months away? Can they learn anything?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, you can never learn too much. The more you play a golf course I think certainly the better it is. More so realizing the greens aren't going to be as firm, they aren't going to be as fast as they will be in June, but still understanding ball positioning, where you put your ball on the golf course, understanding some of the slopes in the greens. Yeah, I think it helps. The more you play a golf course, the more it helps.

Q. I was just curious, of your 20-odd professional victories, aside from the two majors, where you would rank Pebble in '97 and Wentworth in '98 just because of who you beat?
MARK O'MEARA: I'd rank those very high, very high. I think the advantage I did have is that for a while when Tiger first came out, I think that that was a factor. I think there was a pretty big intimidation factor. You'd see his name come up on the board, oh, God, here comes Tiger again because I knew he'd bring it. When I won in '97 holding off Tiger coming down the stretch or when I beat him at Match Play in '98 or when I held him off in the British Open, I know I beat Brian Watts, but Tiger Woods was making a big push and I heard the roars and I knew it was him. It's unmistakable out there what's going on.
But I think those would be personal feelings and personal accomplishments that I take very highly because of -- in my opinion I beat the best players. Maybe not in some people's minds the best player who's ever played, but I think he is by far the most talented player who ever played the game. He may not have the best record, not yet. But relatively speaking it's hard to say that anybody has had more ability and talent than that kid, so when you take him down -- I felt like he still knew when I was -- not in my prime but I could still play a little bit, he knew I could beat him if I played well and I putted well.
I could caddie for him now to be honest with you. Steve Williams is a great caddie, but I told Tiger, if Steve is not feeling good or next time he has a little problem on the track or something, you remember my number. I'll send you shapes. I can still carry a bag. Although if he starts swinging clubs at me, that might be a different issue.

Q. Phil Mickelson recently said that all conditions being equal, he thinks this is the toughest course in the country, and he says if the USGA does its normal thing in June it could be ridiculous. What do you think?
MARK O'MEARA: I don't know if it's the toughest course in the country, but I think lengthened and redesigned, a lot comes into play. If the wind blows, if there's not much wind, these guys are very good and they can get it around out there. USGA is going to make it like they make every one. If you drive it straight, you're going to have a big advantage. If you drive it in the rough, you're going to have a short week. It's real simple. It's pretty much black and white the way they set up the courses. You guys have seen it. It's going to happen here.
A lot I think really here, if the wind doesn't blow, the course is somewhat -- it's never going to be benign, but it's accessible. But if the wind blows a little bit, it gets more difficult certainly.

Q. Knowing this course as well as you know it and knowing Tiger as well as you do, when he comes out here and stands on each tee, what do you think he sees through his eyes about what he likes so much about this course and why he plays it so well?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, once again, I just don't think there's many weaknesses in his game. I know he's been worried the last few years about his driving, but when I watch him playing at home, he just drives it like unbelievable, so I know it's in there. He might struggle with it a little bit, but still, he wins. I think out here he just has obviously a very calm, collective, easy-going feeling about the success that he's had on this golf course. When you've played a course as many times as Tiger has played here at Torrey and had the results that he's had, he can't help but feel confident when he's over the ball, and I know he's been playing well at home. He'll play well here and he'll play well in the Open for sure.

Q. Does it sadden you that big courses have kind of taken over now, that you can't go back to the short courses?
MARK O'MEARA: I think so. Listen, some of those courses, Harbour Town, some of those great classic courses, why not? In my opinion if you want to find out really who the best player is, you've got to play different golf courses. You can't always think that because players hit the ball a long way we're going to build big courses because that will neutralize their length.
I reckon that sometimes, why would you want to play a little bit shorter course? They can still hit driver, but you'd better hit it damn straight or you're going to pay the price.
What I'm trying to say is that, once again, goes back to the very simple process. You watch players struggling, they struggle more when you force them, some way, somehow to have options. But when you build a big course there's no options; it's pretty much straightforward what you've got to do. You've got to get up there and rip it. That's pretty much what all the young players do anyway.
I'd rather see a course where, okay, you can get up and rip it, but I'll tell you what, you'd better rip it about as wide as this tent here, and if you don't you're going to be staring at bogey, double, triple. So now do I hit 3-wood, driver, long iron, what do I do? People might say -- like when Tiger played at Hoylake, that was still pretty exciting.
Even though he didn't hit many woods, he managed the course so well. Hogan did that, Watson, he kind of managed himself well, Nicklaus, one of the greatest managers of all time. And now Tiger Woods. Yeah, is he the most talented, the most gifted, absolutely, but he manages himself so well, how he plays the course.
What I'm trying to say is again, it's not bad having a golf course that's a little bit shorter.

Q. Character?
MARK O'MEARA: Character, exactly, force the guys to have to play some shots. Not always deep rough. I think the more you play a golf course faster and firmer the more difficult it's going to be, not softer and deeper rough. It takes away the options.

Q. Does it seem like ten years for you, the two majors? How has that time period gone?
MARK O'MEARA: It seems like every year goes by faster. Once you get to be about 45 they start going by a lot quicker. Last year went by really quick. Now I'm 51. And this year certainly to go back to the ten-year anniversary of winning, making the putt at Augusta and then at Birkdale, it seems like it was a long time ago but yet not that long ago. It's exciting. Listen, I'm going to keep plugging away for a few more years here, but once I feel like I don't enjoy it as much or don't play as well then I'll step aside.

Q. Do you find that having -- obviously that you can keep playing at those places keeps you motivated in any way?
MARK O'MEARA: It does. Oh, for sure. To know that I'm always -- you hear what a big deal it is to go to Augusta, and it is, to be at The Masters, to know that I can always go there no matter what happens. By the way, I did have a victory last year I think with Mike Reid in Johnny Miller's Pro-Am, but I won the par-3 contest at Augusta. That was huge for me (laughter).
To know that I can keep going back is great, certainly. And I will go back. But once I feel like I don't have a chance to make the cut, then I'm done. I'll just go to the dinner and maybe play nine holes, go along with somebody, hit a couple drives off of 1 and enjoy it.

Q. You obviously had a lot of success in your career, but when you look back at '98, you won twice in the majors and you contended in the PGA. Do you ever wonder why everything came together that year in the majors?
MARK O'MEARA: There's a lot of reasons. Number one, I would say the number one reason was I didn't expect it at the time. I felt like my time had come and gone. When you do that you lower your expectations. I would say most of my career when I won majors I put more pressure on myself, and that probably did me more harm than good. Just the fact of being around Tiger all those years, ten years or so plus watching him playing, he's kind of pushing me, pushing me, pushing me.
In '98, when I went to the Masters that week, I wasn't hitting it that good, I wasn't that confident, I wasn't putting that good, and I was just hoping to make the cut.

Q. Was it just confidence, though, once you won the first major?
MARK O'MEARA: It doesn't make it any easier, but it does tell you that at least you've done it. So if you've done it once, it's a little easier. Rest assured, it's never easy to win, but it know that you've done it once is a motivating factor to open the door for you to do it more than once.
That's why I would say that when I was in the playoff at the Open Championship, I remember Jesper Parnevik asking me that same question on the putting green before we went out for the final round at Birkdale. In '91 I played in the last group at Birkdale when Finchy won, and I finished third or fourth. And I remember Parnevik asked me on the putting green, can I ask you a question? Do you feel any different starting the final round at the Open knowing you've won The Masters earlier this year? Does it make any difference? I said, good question. I'm still just as nervous as probably I would be any time. But in a roundabout way saying that at least knowing I have won gives me a little bit more freedom.
Getting over the hurdle is the toughest thing, but once you're over the hurdle it tends to breed on itself a little bit. When I was in the playoff against Brian Watts, I knew he hadn't won on TOUR, and even though he's a good player, won in Asia and everything, I felt like I had been there before, so I felt like I had the advantage in the playoff. Not taking it for granted, but I felt like I had it. And then I ended up winning for whatever that's worth.

Q. You spoke about the focus of Tiger and players like Anthony Kim. With plenty of money available now on the PGA TOUR, do you think that's led to a greater percentage of players perhaps with less lunger for winning but happy to settle for Top 10s and a more comfortable lifestyle?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, I would say that -- yeah, I would say about prize money that certainly we're professionals and we're trying to make a living, and winning is the ultimate goal. But on the other hand, with the prize money that they're playing for, I would say that that is not a true statement for all the players, but if a guy goes out there and doesn't win but yet has a really successful year and has a lot of Top 10s, wins $3 or $4 million, he's not going to walk away -- the bottom line is people's careers really are going to be judged on tournament wins, a little bit on the prize money but more how many wins that player has had.
I know when I look back on my career, I'm going to take a lot of pride and a lot of self-accomplishment in the amount of tournaments I won on the regular TOUR, certainly the two majors but my international wins around the globe, too.
Winning, there's no substitute for winning. You're right, sometimes some of the players I would tend to say that money is important because they're trying to increase -- have a nice lifestyle and it takes money to have that. But yet on the other hand, people don't really remember you if you finish second, third, fourth or fifth. They only remember who wins. I would stress that winning is very important. The difference between golf and most of the other sports is your percentage of winning is so small, so you fail so many more times than you succeed. It's a dicey thing. Certainly there's a lot of guys that want to win.

Q. What was the message that you tried to impart to Anthony Kim? You've obviously been a mentor to Tiger. What was your message to him? He had a successful year and was in a funk after the season, but what is it about him that you like?
MARK O'MEARA: I would say -- I met him that week. I had never seen Anthony before, never met Anthony. I didn't play that much on the regular TOUR last year, as you know. I don't know what tournament it was this last year where he was playing, and I just remember -- I thought I saw an interview, I could be totally off base, but I thought I saw where he was maybe tied for the lead or was going to be in the last group on Sunday, Colonial or somewhere. And the golf reporter, whoever it was, they were interviewing him, and they said, Anthony, you've been really playing well this year, you're in the final group, and how do you feel about going into tomorrow? He said, I just don't understand why I haven't won yet. I thought that was pretty -- I'm not sure that's an exact quote, don't get me. But it was something in that manner.
But yet when I met him, he came up, and he said, Mark, I'm so excited to be playing with you as your partner and I've grown up watching you play and know what you've accomplished on the regular TOUR and winning the majors, how many tournaments you've won and I know you're obviously very close with Tiger. But I know I've made some comments and I've made some mistakes, and I was very young and I was very naïve. I've got to tell you, I've learned from those, and I want to change.
So I went to dinner with him a couple nights, and I told him for him to come up and say that to me, somebody who he really didn't know that well, was already a step in the right direction. He knows he's made some mistakes. He's willing to change and become a better person and a better player, and I think he just -- we played with Nick Price and Charles Howell, and we grew up in a little different era than a lot of young players today.
I just conveyed to Anthony, I've been around the game a long time. I'm not an expert but I've watched a lot and I've seen a lot. But you've got as much talent or more than any other player I've ever seen besides Tiger, and I believe that.
I'm not trying to put pressure on him, and I told him that. Here's I think what you need to do, and I laid it out for him. Unless you don't like money and you don't want to win tournaments, then maybe you continue down that other road. But if you really want to win tournaments -- he could win multiple tournaments a year easily and win major championships. That's how talented he is in my opinion.
I'll tell you what, I've never been more excited about playing with a young player and watching how he played -- granted, it was pretty cool, too, that he was my partner. I know we didn't win, but I think I'm a pretty good judge of what I see in somebody's bag and what they've got in talent, and that kid has got it.
I played with him a little this winter. He was out in the desert practicing pretty hard. I saw him yesterday, and he was like, I missed ten putts inside of five feet. I said, listen, I don't know how you played. But I watched you make a big putt for two-putt on 17 and I watched how you finished 18. I know it's tied for third and I know you want to win badly. But you've got to knock at the door, keep knocking at the door and sooner or later they're going to open the door. It's going to happen.
You're not going to win every week. If you try and force it too hard you're always going to get in your own way. So you've got to let it come to you and be patient. Then when you win, it will build on itself. You'll learn from that. Life is all about learning experiences. This kid very much impresses me a lot, a real lot.

Q. How does his talent compare to Tiger at 21?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, 21, 22 Tiger already won six tournaments. I think Tiger's mental game was probably stronger. I think actual technique-wise, swing-wise, I reckon Anthony's swing is better at 21 or 22 than what Tiger's was. But just because you have a good swing and just because you might hit the ball well doesn't mean that you're going to win tournaments. We've seen that. We've seen players that don't have very good swings that -- this guy if you watched him on the range you wouldn't think he had a chance. But yet the guy goes out and has got the heart and the mind and the short game.
I see a little bit of immaturity, younger, kind of aggressive, kind of gets a little hot under the collar, but all those things are things that we've kind of talked about. You know, hopefully he'll take that to heart. I imagine he's going to play well this week, too, because he's coming off a good week last week and he's confident. There's no way he shouldn't play well every week. He's way too skilled not to.
CHRIS REIMER: Let's hope you play good this week, and good luck.

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