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May 12, 2011

Mark O'Meara


COLIN MURRAY: Mark, thanks for joining us, obviously a great round today, 6-under par 66. I believe it's your lowest opening round in 24 starts.
COLIN MURRAY: And just one off your best score here overall. You played here a couple weeks ago and felt good about your game. If you could just talk about that and how things went today.
MARK O'MEARA: Well, it certainly was a little windy, a little warm out there today, but you know, I made some good up-and-downs at the right time. For example, even the 1st hole right out of the box, I drove it just in the left rough and hit a flier over the back edge and hit a good pitch shot to about nine feet and made it for par.
Those are the kind of things you do and look back on and realize it's just not the good shots and the birdie putts you made but some of the par saves I had. That was one of them, 4 was another one. I drove it in the right bunker off the tee and it carried just short in the pothole bunker, came back, and I hit a great bunker shot to about eight inches. That was another good par save.
And then certainly on the 14th hole I hit a good tee shot and hung a 4-iron to the right of the green and had to play kind of a low pitch shot into the bank. Hit a good pitch but it went by about ten feet and made that for par.
When I look at my rounds, I look more at those saves besides just the birdies I made out there.
COLIN MURRAY: Just the one bogey on 7 and you bounced right back with birdies on 8 and 9 and capped it off with a nice putt there on 18.
MARK O'MEARA: Yeah, the birdies came -- on 3, I hit an 8-iron to about 20 feet and made that for birdie.
The bogey on 7 was -- I hit a good drive and pulled a 5-iron left of the green, went off the back edge, pitched it to about -- actually to about five feet and missed it.
8, I hit a rescue club that was 227, I believe, today, and I hit it to about two and a half, three feet. That was a great shot for me, and made that for birdie.
9, I hit a good drive, laid up with a 5-iron and hit a sand wedge to about probably 14 feet, made that for birdie.
I had a couple of chances on 10 and 11 for birdie, but missed those.
And then 12, I hit a drive off the tee and hit a sand wedge, a 53-degree sand wedge to about two feet, made that for birdie.
Then I told you about the good par save on 14.
And then 15, I drove it just up the right side. I was just in the right rough and had about 170 yards, but it was downwind, like 143 to the front. I hit 9-iron, and it flew 10 feet into the green or 12 feet into the green and then chased all the way up there to maybe about 10 feet, made that for birdie.
16, I hit a good drive, hit a rescue just up in front of the green and hit a pitch and run to about five feet, made that for birdie.
And then 18, I drove it up the right side and was just in the right rough and hit a 6-iron about 204 to the hole, and it chased up onto the green and I ended up almost pin high on the left fringe and had probably about a 30-footer, 32-footer and made it. You know, that was a great way to cap off the day.

Q. How are you putting? What's your putting grip and give us a little history on --
MARK O'MEARA: I'm putting good. 24 putts, so...
Most of my career I would say I was a very good putter, and then even in the late '90s, early 2000, I had a little bit of issue with kind of a little bit of the yips with my right hand in putting.
At the time I was working with Hank Haney, and Hank came in and said, You know, you need to change your grip because you've kind of got the yips. I'm like, okay. He says, You need to put your hand on like this. I'm like, I don't know if I can do that. That looks pretty ugly. He says, Who cares how it looks? Is there some golden rule how it looks? We've got to talk about how to get the hit out of your stroke.
So I put it on -- it's kind of my own version what I called it at the time, I remember I was with my son Sean at Isleworth, and it's not the claw, it's not the pencil, the paintbrush; I called mine the saw. Because what I felt like when I put my right hand on top of the putter, it was like a little handsaw, so that's why I call my grip the saw and that's the way I grip it.
To be honest, haven't really yipped too many putts. I'm not saying I haven't missed any putts, pulled them or pushed them, but ever since I put my hand on like that, I've stroked the ball better.
I know I haven't won as many tournaments as I would have liked to have won out there on the Champions Tour, but I believe I'm a better putter that way. Even if I tried to go back and put my old grip on, I don't feel as good over the ball and I don't feel as comfortable.

Q. In general did you feel back in your element with the younger guys? Obviously --
MARK O'MEARA: It's never easy when you're playing -- like DJ was great today. He drove the ball well. He's hitting it 40 by me. But that's all right. Even when I went to dinner with Tiger last night, my wife Meredith sitting back there, said, "How's Mark hitting it?" He says, "short." Okay, yeah, I'm not 32 and strong, but I hit it far enough.
But you're right, I mean, some of the holes out there today, like No. 5, when it's 470 into the wind, I have to hit a driver and a rescue club. I'm not hitting a driver and a 5-iron or 4-iron. I'm chasing a rescue up on the front of the green.
All I'm trying to do on those hole is make a par. A birdie would be a bonus. But saying that, the golf course is 7,200-plus, right around there, and on the Champions Tour most of the average length courses are probably 7,000 to 7,100, so it's not like we play super short courses.
I think physically-wise, I hit the ball as far now as I did when I played in my prime on the regular TOUR to be honest with you. And I know equipment has something to do with it, but I'm still fairly strong. If I make a good swing and trust it, I can still get it out there, so I know I can still play.
And when I played here, like I said earlier, two and a half weeks ago from the back tees and shot that score, I said to myself, hey, I know no one expects me to play well, but you know what, there's no reason why I can't go out there and play well.
And yeah, there was some pressure on me today because I don't want to go out there -- I don't take it lightly. When I won the Senior Players Championship, the Constellation Energy Championship up there at TPC Potomac knowing that that got me in here, I don't want to come here and not play well. I want to play well. And fortunately today I did, and hopefully I can keep it up.

Q. You say you shot 67 two and a half weeks ago?
MARK O'MEARA: I shot 68, 4-under.

Q. You mentioned Tiger and having dinner last night. I know you played a couple of nines with him.

Q. Before you teed off today you heard what happened?

Q. What was your reaction? Did you get a chance to talk to him?
MARK O'MEARA: No, I was shocked to be honest with you. I turned on my phone this morning and I saw he got off to a poor start. I don't know what happened. I just saw that he was 4- or 5-over through 6 holes, and I'm like, wait a minute, I just played with him yesterday morning and he played great on the back nine. Not great, but he was well on his way in my opinion knowing him as well as I do and seeing the signs that I expected him -- maybe not -- I don't know if he was ready to win, but I thought he would play well, or decent, because he's such a great competitor.
But I don't know what happened. I haven't talked to him. I sent him a text this morning after I saw he withdrew just to check on him and let him know he was concerned for him, and he said he's just not doing so well, not feeling so well.
So I haven't talked to him. I don't know how bad it is. Obviously it's pretty bad. But he needs to get that fixed, because you know, I know how much he loves the game, and I know how badly he wants to be competing, and the game needs him. I mean, he's great for this game.

Q. Is there a sense that you have from talking to him, even last night, seems like he's -- I don't want to say he's rushing himself to get back, but it seems obviously he wants to get back to some normalcy, which for him is winning tournaments and stuff. Do you sense maybe he rushed back a little bit because he wants to get going again?
MARK O'MEARA: You know, it's hard for me to -- sometimes, Tiger, even as well as I know him, sometimes it's very difficult to read him, you know, and I think I know him fairly well. I asked him the other day, I said, "How's the leg," and he says, "It's fine." I don't know if it's fine or if he's just telling me it's fine and it's really not that fine.
You know, I saw Sean Foley out there, and I asked him, and he's like, You know, his leg is not good. I mean, he can hit balls, but he's having a hard time walking. So it's a hard game to play if he can't walk. My take on it is that he's a great athlete, he's incredibly physically gifted, and he's been battling some injuries and certainly the personal problems that he's had in his life the last year and a half, all those things combined has made it difficult for him to get probably on the golf course where he wants to be.
But in saying that, he seems extremely happy and extremely at ease where he is. I mean, when we had dinner with him last night, my wife and I, he couldn't have been better, and he picked up the check, so that was awesome.

Q. He must be in a good mood.
MARK O'MEARA: That's what I'm saying. It's not that often he goes to the hip, so I'm saying to you, he's doing better. (Laughter).
I feel for my friend to be honest with you, because I know -- no, I don't know, but I can only imagine what he's -- I saw what he went through and when he was dominating the game and playing. I don't know how anybody can do what he did personally, and now with everything that's transpired in his life, personally, on and off the golf course, it's just not going to -- it just doesn't turn around like a switch that you can just turn on and say, okay, all that's done, now I'm going to start playing great.

Q. Did you go to Wendy's?
MARK O'MEARA: No, we didn't go to Wendy's, we actually went to Ruth's Chris. So I was really glad when he -- I tried to go for the check, and he's like, no, no, I'm buying. Okay, good.

Q. Do you think he's sort of in like a golf Catch-22 that if he plays he risks aggravating the Achilles and/or the knee, and if he doesn't play then he risks not being sharp enough to actually compete to win?
MARK O'MEARA: Yeah, he definitely needs to have more reps because you can stand on the range at home at Isleworth or you can come and hit balls or play practice rounds or whatever, but until you get out there in the thick of the battle, it's very difficult to trust anything. And even as great as he is, he can struggle with his confidence, you know, and certainly when you start hitting some wild shots and you haven't had the success that he's accustomed to, that just adds to the pressure you might say.
If the limitations that Tiger is facing with his injuries are holding him back, then he needs to get those totally fixed and get back, and then he needs to come back and just take little steps to get back, because he knows how to win. You can't be that great a champion and all of a sudden not -- and I watched him play practice, and I know John Cook practices with him a lot in Orlando. I live in Houston so I don't see him that much anymore, but I've just heard how well he's hitting it, and I watched him yesterday play the back nine and it was impressive, and I played with him at Augusta and it was impressive. I see him in a better place in the way he's hitting the ball on the course.

Q. Given how much he cherishes winning majors, do you think there's a part of him where he hears the clock ticking on Nicklaus' record?
MARK O'MEARA: I don't think so.

Q. No?
MARK O'MEARA: No. I think he -- that's always been a passion of his, to win majors and to compete, and for a while that's all he's dreamed about. But I think over the last couple years, now having a family and wanting to be there for his kids, I think he still wants that, but how much only he can really determine. Is the fire burning as bright as it once did? Maybe not. But that's to be expected when you look at the intense pressure that this kid has lived under for the last 20 years of his life. I mean, I know he's -- anybody, any athlete that's under the scrutiny like he's been under, there's a little price you have to pay, and so it slowly erodes at maybe -- no one can be inside his brain or his body and figure out where he's at, but he needs to just get around his friends, keep practicing, get healthy, and then I think he'll be back where he wants to be.

Q. Back to the tournament, last time you played this tournament it had about five-inch ryegrass.
MARK O'MEARA: Right, I didn't like that.

Q. And today three-inch Bermuda.
MARK O'MEARA: I liked that.

Q. Which is harder?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, I think that the ryegrass slows the course down. That favors the big guys. When it's soft -- you've got to water it more, so then it's softer, too, so that favors the powerful player. To me any time you play a golf course quicker and faster like a links course, that's better for every player in the field. The powerful player can still play well, but then the average length player can still get it around out there.
I prefer the way it is now. As soon as I heard that they stopped overseeding, I thought that was a good thing because I think Pete Dye wanted it that way. When we first came here and played in the early '80s, '82 was our first year, this was a wild golf course. I mean, it was -- you couldn't see any other hole from the hole you were on. You'd better hit it straight.
To me if you're going to challenge the young players, you need to hold them accountable. It's fine to be powerful and hit it long, but you need to be accurate, too, and if you're not, then the Bermuda rough makes you think, is it going to fly, is it not going to fly. The ryegrass is pretty much just get in there and hack away. There's no -- whenever we played Doral back in the old days and there was just this deep Bermuda rough, that was a lot tougher than the ryegrass like this.

Q. If you had been in that spot off 18 fairway --
MARK O'MEARA: In the ryegrass I wouldn't have been able to get there.

Q. You wouldn't have had a chance to make the shot you did today?
MARK O'MEARA: No, if there would have been this much ryegrass, I wouldn't have been able to hit it on the green. But there was this much Bermuda, and if I hit a good shot, there's a possibility I can chase it onto the green, and that's what I did.
COLIN MURRAY: Mark, thanks for your time.

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