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Out of the Woods
Steve Rushin
April 20, 1998
Young lions and Tiger and a Golden Bear—Mark O'Meara slipped past a menagerie of rivals to win the Masters
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April 20, 1998

Out Of The Woods

Young lions and Tiger and a Golden Bear—Mark O'Meara slipped past a menagerie of rivals to win the Masters

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Woods whiled away Saturday night shut inside his bedroom, inside his locked rental house, itself guarded by a sheriff's deputy, inside a gated community in Augusta. He had played erratically but was only five strokes off the lead.

"I don't have any desire at all to change places with Tiger," says O'Meara, who lives three blocks from Woods and has him over for lunch regularly. "I have seen the sacrifices he has had to make, and...." Well, let's just say a canine unit of the Augusta police department won't be required outside O'Meara's rental home next April, as it was in front of Woods's this year.

Contrast his life with that of Matt Kuchar, the 19-year-old successor to Woods as U.S. Amateur champion, a man Woods called Kid when they played together on Thursday. Kuchar literally never stopped smiling over four glorious days of even-par golf at Augusta National, whose back nine looked so familiar to him. "Man, Pop," Kuchar said to his caddie-father, Peter, as the two strolled Amen Corner last Thursday. "How many times have we been on the other side of the TV?"

Like the heroine in the ultimate novel of "strange and goofy characters," Alice in Wonderland, Kuchar, a Georgia Tech sophomore, had gone through the modern-day looking glass and wound up inside his television set. On Thursday he made a 10-foot putt on 6, in full view of the gallery at 16, where Nicklaus made his iconic birdie putt in 1986. "I remember Jack Nicklaus making his putt on 16 back in '86," said Kuchar afterward, "and he lifted his putter up in the air. And for some reason, my putter just went up in the air."

Duval watched Nicklaus's 1986 triumph as it reran on the Golf Channel on the Monday of Masters week. So, for that matter, did Nicklaus, who was playing with his grandkids when he happened upon it, little knowing that he would resurrect those images later in the week. Of course, the best impression of Nicklaus by a golfer other than Nicklaus last week belonged to O'Meara, who won the Masters with his putter. In all, he took only 105 putts, 12 less than Woods did last year, when he shot a record 270 and didn't three-putt once.

O'Meara and Woods, whose oh-so-modern friendship was brokered by their mutual agency, IMG, play together often. Practicing at Bay Hill in Orlando last month, Woods outdrove O'Meara by 67 yards on one hole—they actually paced it off. "Look," said O'Meara, "you and I can't continue to play practice rounds together. You've got an eight-iron to the green, and I've got a three-wood. Where's the fairness in that?"

"You've got a putter," Woods replied.

"He was right," O'Meara said after putting on the green jacket. While Duval was three-putting 16 on Sunday for bogey, to go to eight under, O'Meara was birdieing 15, to get to seven under. O'Meara's partner, Couples, made an eagle at 15 and tied Duval for the lead, and both men would par out the round.

Despite trailing both men by a stroke O'Meara strode to the 17th tee feeling oddly at ease. "I'm going to birdie the last two holes and win," he said to his caddie, Jerry Higginbotham, who noted the faraway look in his loop's eyes. Higginbotham would later say, "He was like, stoned, man."

O'Meara did make a birdie at 17—one-putting from nine feet, left to right, downhill—to pull even with Couples and Duval. His tee shot on 18 left him 148 uphill yards from the flag. Higginbotham suggested a six-iron. "I'm gonna blitz a seven-iron," said the stoned O'Meara, who put his ball on the bottom shelf of the green, 20 feet to the right of the stick.

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