Last week, in a curious sort of way, the impact of Tiger Woods was even felt at the Tour event he skipped, the Buick Invitational in La Jolla, Calif. Mark O'Meara won again, but there was no Tiger on his tail at Torrey Pines, pushing him with birdies. This time all that stood between O'Meara and a second straight win was a bunch of pussycats, and on Sunday they allowed him to shoot a pedestrian 71 and still win easily.
Nevertheless, O'Meara (right) insisted that his two-stroke victory over a host of pretenders was every bit as special as his high-drama triumph at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am seven days earlier. "Sure, there was a lot more media hype and attention then because of Pebble and the celebrities, and I guess Tiger, but this is a tremendous win for me," O'Meara said. "Winning back-to-back is a real accomplishment."
In four weeks O'Meara has earned $710,460 to move to fourth on the career money list with more than $8 million—without playing particularly well. He has also turned 40 and discovered that maturity gives him a weapon with which he can counter a number of swing flaws. "So many times I've just gone out there and played, and Hank Haney, who I've worked with for years, would watch me and say, 'That is absolutely the worst score you could have gotten,' " says O'Meara. "Now I don't necessarily have to play great, but I'm still getting a good score by thinking my way around the course."
After finishing 14th in the season-opening Mercedes Championships, O'Meara has been on a tear. At the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic he was near the lead all week and came in fourth. At Pebble Beach he was consistency itself, with four rounds of 67 and four postround assertions that he didn't feel comfortable over the ball. At Torrey Pines, O'Meara shot 67, 66 and 71 before Sunday, and he was 12 under and two strokes out of the lead. But during the final round he three-putted three times and admitted that his ball striking graded out at C plus. That didn't matter because, conveniently, all of the other contenders fell apart.
Fittingly, seven of them finished tied for second. Three—Donnie Hammond, David Ogrin and Duffy Waldorf—shot Sunday-low 69s and reached 11 under par, two behind O'Meara, by birdieing the last hole, a pooch of a par-5. (It was the easiest hole on the course last week, averaging 4.335 strokes.) None of the other top-10 finishers was under par on the 18th. Craig Stadler, who was only a stroke off the lead when he arrived at the final tee, made the worst mess of the hole. After his best drive of the day, Stadler chopped his way to a bogey. "It was a pitiful effort," he said.
Another of the runners-up, Jesper Parnevik, was equally disconsolate. "When I was second in Phoenix, I felt like I had won because Steve Jones was out of reach," said Parnevik, who picked up his fourth top-five finish of the year. "This time I feel like I lost."
O'Meara says he will use the security of an already successful season to "freewheel it the rest of the year." He'll be trying to add to his 14 Tour victories—not one of which, he claims, he would trade for a major championship, the one gap in his résumé. "I'd feel better if I was playing as well as I did last year," O'Meara said on Sunday, "but I can't complain about the results so far."