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May 14, 2004

Mark O'Meara


TODD BUDNICK: We thank Mark O'Meara after his 4-under 66 for joining us, 7-under for the tournament. Mark, four birdies, no bogeys today, a nice round for you.

MARK O'MEARA: Thanks, Todd. I made a couple good pars on 1 and 3. They were playing long and I hit it in the rough and couldn't get to the green, was short of the green, pitched it up on the first hole and made about a 10-footer for par, so that was nice.

I parred the second hole.

Third hole, I hit it just in the rough, it was playing 500-something into the wind, so even if I hit a good drive, I would have had to have smoked a 3-wood and still may have not gotten there. I hit into the rough, pitched it 12 feet behind the hole and made that for par, so those were like two birdies for me.

TODD BUDNICK: Everybody said they were playing like par 5s.

MARK O'MEARA: They were playing like par 5s, maybe not so much for the 27- and 30-year-old guys, but for me it was.

Then I birdied 4, hit a good drive and 7-iron to about 14 feet, made that for birdie, parred around, was in the bunker on a couple holes, hit good bunker shots to three feet, made those for pars.

Then I birdied No. 10, hit a good drive and a 7-iron to about 10 to 12 feet, made that for birdie.

I birdied No. 13, hit a good drive in the fairway and hit a 6-iron to about maybe 18, 20 feet, made that for birdie.

And then the birdie on 16, the par 5, I drove it in the left rough, had to lay up and hit a sand wedge to about two feet and made that for birdie, which was good.

And then I made a good two-putt save on 17. I ran it by about eight, 10 feet, made it coming back for a par, and then parred on the last hole.

I'm pleased. Not to make a bogey out there today was really nice. I saw some signs. I hit the ball better yesterday. Today I drove it pretty well, but, I mean, I can hit it better, but I scored well, handled myself well and I'm definitely putting better.

TODD BUDNICK: You mentioned age so I can bring it up. Joey Sindelar's victory last week was obviously pretty inspirational.

MARK O'MEARA: A lot of the guys have been playing well, certainly Jay Haas has been playing well, Joey's win at Wachovia, tremendous victory for Joey and well-deserved because he is well-respected and a super good guy.

My win in Dubai was a big win for me. I've seen some better signs. My putting grip, the saw grip that I've been using has been a big help because I've taken a lot of hit out of my stroke and I have a lot more confidence on the greens, and that's very important, especially at this level of play.

I'm happy to be playing on the weekend, and maybe tomorrow -- Peter might have to make another birdie, but I might be playing with Tiger in the final group, and that would be great. If not, I'll be near him and hopefully I can stay near him come Sunday afternoon.

Q. Have you guys played many rounds on the weekends together?

MARK O'MEARA: Yes, we've played in major championships together on Sunday or Saturday at the British Open a couple times, and we've played together before. Not a lot, but he's usually in the last few groups on the weekend. I'm hoping to be near the last few groups on the weekend. Everyone thinks he can't play a lick anymore the way the press writes about him, that he's messing around with his swing, he's doing this, doing that, I'm teaching him, he's playing bad because I'm teaching him.

You guys, I can only tell you that you're barking up the wrong tree. You don't need to get him more riled up than he already is. Trust me, the guy is phenomenal. Even if he's not playing well, he's phenomenal. He's good for the game, good for the sport, conducts himself in an unbelievably great manner. His humility that he has as an athlete is unreal.

I told him when I was on the range yesterday I'm going to come out with a press release that I'm not talking about Tiger Woods anymore. If you want to know about Tiger, go talk to Tiger and he will tell us what's wrong with his swing. Now he's leading.

Q. Is he riled up right now?

MARK O'MEARA: No, but, I mean, listen. Golf is a -- as you know, he's set the bar so high and we all know that, and the expectations that we all place on Tiger Woods is just I think sometimes a little unrealistic. He continues to amaze me because there's no player that's ever played the game of golf under the scrutiny and the immense pressure that this young man plays under all the time. Jack Nicklaus didn't play under it, Arnold Palmer didn't play under it, Mr. Nelson didn't play under it, and that's normal, and certainly that's why he makes the money he makes, but on the other hand, he does deliver.

I mean, okay, he had a 42nd finish or a 22nd finish. I mean, he's not missing the cuts, and every minute somebody is trying to compare. Certainly Vijay Singh has had the best year of any player in professional golf up to this stage, and he's played unbelievably well and deserves all the credit he can get, but Tiger, hey, he's a little off, there's no denying it, but even being a little off, he lost by a shot last week at Wachovia, he plays with a lot of heart, a lot of determination. I don't know, I mean, all I know is that I think that he's going to be just fine, trust me.

Q. How long have you been working with Hank?

MARK O'MEARA: I met Hank Haney in 1982, Pinehurst, North Carolina, but I've worked with other teachers. I've work with Leadbetter, I've had Butch Harmon watch me hit balls, talk to me about my swing. I know all the media are experts an the golf swing, you guys know exactly what's wrong with Tiger's swing, right, but most teachers basically are teaching the same thing. The angles don't lie, the video camera tells it as it is. How they might communicate it or how they might want to convey it to their student, now, that might be a little bit different, the teaching approach might be a little bit different, but I think if you look at Tiger's swing, it's not very far off to be honest with you.

Maybe his confidence might be a little off and if you're standing over it and if you're swinging sometimes pretty well and not feeling good about it, then it's going to be a battle out there, and I watched him hit balls at home and watched him at practice the other day at Cottonwood and he's pretty pure if you ask me. The competition is a little different. He's told you all that when there's water right and there's out of bounds left and you've got hesitation and your confidence is a little low, he's not immune to that, he's still a human being. Even though we think he's above that, he's still a human being and it builds character to be a little off your game and still compete at a level he competes. I'm off my game a little bit and I'm sitting on my couch on the weekend.

Q. Are you done?

MARK O'MEARA: Sure, why not.

Q. Your win in Dubai was against a pretty strong field. What would be the difference to doing it here?

MARK O'MEARA: Oh, it would be huge. It's been a while since I won on the PGA TOUR. The last two and a half years it's been a battle of not playing well, a battle of not putting well, a battle of being excited about being on the road. It's harder to be on the road when your children are at the teenaged age of their lives and dad is gone all the time, and it's not fun to come home when you're not playing well because then you're out there practicing all day long trying to figure out what you need to do to play better, and all I can tell you, the big turnaround was certainly my putting. That freed me up a lot.

If you're putting well it just takes a lot of pressure off the rest of your game, and I've started hitting the ball a little bit better, my driving accuracy is better, I could be hitting more greens, but if you're driving the ball well and putting well, those are two nice things.

So it would be a great thrill to have a chance to win come Sunday afternoon.

Q. Have you ever been tempted to go back to conventional having had some success with the saw?

MARK O'MEARA: No. I've hit some short putts once in a while conventional back to my old grip, but this is working pretty good. I mean, I had a couple of my amateur partners trying it. Every time I turn somebody on to it, they roll the ball great. Anybody out there who's got a little of that in their stroke and they don't want to admit it, that's fine, but trust me, everybody has got a little of it somewhere, sometimes, and it's just a way to maybe try something completely different because a lot of times in golf you don't want to experiment too much. You don't want to try something radically different.

But to get over the hump sometimes instead of just trying to get back to where you were, to try something radically different, you all of a sudden leapfrog ahead and open up the door in the mind to free up and start hitting some putts. People don't talk about Vijay Singh, left hand low, belly putter, and yet the guy is winning $7 million. There's nothing wrong with messing around.

Q. I think the grip is working, it's just people will do something different and then they'll want to go back.

MARK O'MEARA: I might go back if it stops working, but it's working so I ain't going back.

Q. When you did make the switch, you talk about a little of that (indicating), was that a physical technique or mental or --

MARK O'MEARA: Everybody thinks it's mental, and I thought it was mental, and there's been these studies done on it. You can name it anything you want to call it, but once again, you know, when I -- when Hank came into Orlando when I was playing in the Father Son Championship with my son last December, he says, "I think I can fix your problem." I'm like, "Wait a minute, I've been putting for hours, I've spent more time on the putting green the last six months of last year than I ever have in my life." I would putt good on the putting green, rehearse it, and then I would get on the course and the expectations would increase, the hit was still in there and it's just hard to play golf.

I could see where I needed to play my putts. At The Skins Game I could see where I needed to play them. If I hit it on line I felt like I got lucky, I just timed it just right. They say it's mental, it's this, it's that, a little bit of everything. All of a sudden I put my right hand on like that and I still felt in the tournament the first few holes a little uneasy, but no hit in there at all. All of a sudden, then the momentum starts to swing in the other direction.

Q. Are you exempt for the U.S. Open?

MARK O'MEARA: I am not.

Q. How does it feel to be exempt as long as you want for the British Open and The Masters but having to struggle like everyone else at the U.S. Open?

MARK O'MEARA: That's fine, I don't have a problem with it. I had my five years of exemption and I don't think I need to be waiting for the USGA to be writing to me to be a possible invitee, to get a spot. PGA of America was nice enough to give me a spot. I wasn't in the Championship last year up in Rochester and they gave me a spot. That's nice.

You know, listen, I'm playing on an exemption this year because I didn't finish in the Top-125 last year. I've got a lot of things I'm trying to do to try and turn it around a little bit. I'm playing a little bit better and starting to see some results, but I'm not overconfident in any means and I'll probably have to qualify up in Columbus after Muirfield to try to get in the U.S. Open. I played Shinnecock a week ago last Tuesday. Before Wachovia I was up there doing an outing. The course is really neat. I didn't play in 95, I played in 86, and hopefully I'll be able to play in 2004.

Q. British Open has reduced the exemption for the U.S. Open Championship to five years -- (inaudible).

MARK O'MEARA: Somebody else brought that up last week at Wachovia and asked me what I thought. You know, they're their tournaments and I guess they can change the rules any time they want. One minute when I won The Masters I thought I was exempt for life, and the next thing you know I was exempt until I'm 65 and now I'm back to being exempt for life. The way I look at it, I don't know, I mean, the U.S. Open only exempts a player for five years, so -- I guess if you win the U.S. Open you're exempt for ten years. I don't know, they're always changing the play. I guess if I was Corey Pavin and Lee Jantzen I wouldn't be real happy about it.

Q. Did you come into this week still looking for something?

MARK O'MEARA: No, I played okay --

Q. Have you been working on anything?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, I missed the cut by a shot last week, and basically I was even par, knew the cut was at even par, drove it in the fairway on my last hole, No. 9, and skanked a 3-iron over to the right on No. 9. Then I came in on Monday and worked with Hank for a couple of days. When I play my best I feel like I can draw the ball, a controllable draw, and if I can't do that then I'm struggling a little bit.

Yesterday I hit some really pretty shots. Today, kind of straight balls. I wouldn't say I hit it great, but I hit some good shots and I kept the ball in play. I'm going to go to the range and try to shape some more shots and try and do the same thing tomorrow when I'm playing.

Q. Is it a relief or sheer fun to be able to talk about your game rather than comment on Tiger's?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, yeah, I have to get assistance to find out where the media center is nowadays (laughter). I've been here before in the media room at the Byron Nelson. It's been a few years but it's nice to be back in here. Usually when I'm getting interviewed they want to know about Tiger Woods. Everybody knows already what I think of Tiger Woods, so I don't need to talk about him anymore, even though I enjoy talking about him because he's a friend and an exceptional player. I admire everything he does and I talk to him on the phone every so often and tell him just to stay the course and continue to act the way he does. He's totally awesome.

Q. If you're paired with him tomorrow, there's been talk ever since he's been out here whether it's tough to play with him, whether it's intimidating. You've played with him enough and beaten him enough at home and at Wentworth, is there anything to that for you or is it too much --

MARK O'MEARA: If I'm in the last group, certainly I'd be a little nervous. That's part of playing professional golf. I imagine he'll be nervous, too. But no, sometimes people make it up like Tiger doesn't play as good if he gets paired with his friends. He played with John Cook the last couple days, and he's 8-under par, he's leading the tournament.

I think when Tiger is out there competing, he'd like to see me play well, he's got a lot of heart but he wants to win the tournament and I'd like to win the tournament. His ability is so far superior over mine, it's not even funny, but sometimes things happen. I mean, it happened at Dubai, it's happened before.

We've got a lot of golf still left to be played, the weather conditions, the wind. There's a lot to be said -- if I drive the ball well and keep the ball in play and I've been doing that, get my iron play tuned in a little bit more, there's no reason why I couldn't contend come Sunday afternoon.

Q. How much time do you and Tiger spend together like at a tournament like this, maybe this week?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, we had dinner last night together. Not that much. I mean, he spends a lot of time with his fiancee. He works out a lot. Obviously you can tell I don't work out a lot (laughter). I mean, he needs his space, and he's a very close friend as everyone knows of him, but he's still an individual and he still needs his privacy with his fiancee, by himself. It's not like he goes out all the time because when he does go out all the time it's always a little bit of commotion, but he handles it extremely well when he does go out.

Q. I was just wondering if you guys had done a lot of stuff together.

MARK O'MEARA: I think over the years we have, most of the majors. The last few years we haven't stayed together in the majors, but for many, many years we usually stayed together, rented a house together at a lot of the major championships, so we spent quite a bit of time together. Now we're into different things. I love to fly fish, he's into scuba-diving. He feels like if he's down there spear fishing the fish he's got a better chance, and if I'm fishing, the fish has got the advantage. Down there under the water people don't know who he is, people are not asking for him autographs, the media is not asking him about what's wrong with his golf swing, why don't you go back to Butch.

Tiger was unbelievable at 3 years old, unbelievable at 13 years old, unbelievable at 17 years old, and he's unbelievable now at 28 years old, and if people along that whole process helped him, yes, but whether it's me, Butch Harmon, not near enough credit has been given to his mom and his dad. What about them? You don't think that they get a lot of credit for what he's accomplished in his life? I mean, come on.

So everybody just needs to take a chill pill. He'll be just fine. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

End of FastScripts.

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