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First Off The Mark
William F. Reed
January 15, 1996
Mark O'Meara hopes that his season-opening win will lead to something big
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January 15, 1996

First Off The Mark

Mark O'Meara hopes that his season-opening win will lead to something big

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Many of the players were too busy praising their new equipment to worry about anything else. Corey Pavin, who's using a new ball (the Titleist HP2 Tour), shot a 67 to take the first-round lead. He was replaced through two rounds by Janzen, who used all his new stuff—Taylor Made clubs, Precept balls, Fila apparel—to fashion a second-round 65 that he liked better than the course-record 63 he shot in last year's second round. "I was striking the ball better," said Janzen, in what sounded suspiciously like a commercial, "and I'm in control of my game." But then he dropped back into the pack on Saturday (must be the shoes, right?) as O'Meara charged into the lead, which he nursed through Sunday's final round. And guess who O'Meara thanked after the win? Not his wife or his caddie, but his equipment. "A lot of it was due to the Taylor Made equipment I've been using," he said, "and a little bit that I played good too."

He also played at a reasonable pace that fell somewhere between that of Daly and Faldo, O'Meara's Sunday playing partner. On the 13th hole, tournament officials informed O'Meara that his group was "under the clock," meaning that they were in danger of being penalized for slow play. "It wasn't me," said O'Meara, "and Nick and I were playing together. He told me that he was walking fast between shots, and what I thought was, Well, all I know is we're behind and it takes you forever when you get over the ball. But I can't tell Nick Faldo, 'Hey, hey, hey, speed up—you're taking too much time to pull the trigger.' When he missed the green with his approach on 16, he must have walked back and forth forever."

At the award ceremony O'Meara had the good sense to keep his mouth shut (and his Toyota visor off) when he accepted the keys to a new Mercedes. Except for Faldo, everybody in the field wore a visor that promoted something or other. "I probably should have worn a Lexus visor," O'Meara said, "because that's the car that Toyota makes that's more on the same level with a Mercedes."

So what's new about O'Meara in 1996? Well, how about that load of confidence that he carted away from La Costa? Somebody should point out to him, if he doesn't already know it, that last year Steve Elkington became the first opening-event winner to also win a major since Tom Watson followed his Tournament of Champions win in 1980 with the third of his five British Open titles. Interestingly, Elkington's victory in the PGA Championship at Riviera came at least partly because O'Meara suffered a meltdown after a record-tying 131 in the opening rounds had given him a share of the lead with Els. That failure still eats at O'Meara.

"Usually I don't back off after I get the lead," he said. "All I need is to have good mental vibes and the confidence to drive the ball well. I've been close to winning majors in the past. I can remember those events and what it felt like to lose. There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to win a major. Lately I've been taking my game in the right direction—a little more upscale."

You win the Mercedes at La Costa, and you're definitely in upscale territory. Now we'll have to see if O'Meara can use the Mercedes (his new championship, not his new car) as the vehicle to carry him to the most exclusive neighborhood in golf.

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