June 2, 2008

Woods and O'Meara

Friends talk golf — and life

Woods and O'Meara practicing with an audience

Woods and O'Meara practicing with an audience

At first glance, theirs isn't the likeliest of friendships. The world's best golfer and the golfer who played the best in 1998 don't, on the face of it, have much in common beyond a shared zip code and their prowess on the links.

Consider their cosmetic differences:

One is, at 22, a strong candidate for "world's most eligible bachelor." The other is 41 years old, happily married and a father of two.

One is capable of consistently driving a golf ball more than 300 yards. The other, like most of us, isn't.

One looks amazingly like the average golfer: white, balding and creeping up on middle age. The other is none of those things.

One is perhaps golf's most intense competitor. The other has one of the game's cheeriest demeanors.

When one holes an important putt, he typically celebrates with an uppercut worthy of Evander Holyfield. The other contents himself with vaguely self-conscious waves.

And yet, the relationship between Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara works. Works well, in fact. Through almost-daily contact at their homes in the Orlando area's exclusive Isleworth enclave—and many toughly contested practice rounds—the pair have, by mutual agreement, been good for each other.

Contributing Editor John Huggan met with both men at St. Andrews' Old Course, with some follow-ups after the World Match Play final at Wentworth.

Their closeness was obvious in the gentle teasing and sharing of in-jokes as they opened the door a bit on their friendship on and off the course.

GOLF DIGEST: Are you two more (a) competitors or (b) friends?

Mark O'Meara: I think B.

Tiger Woods: I agree. Even when we compete, we're still friends.

M.O.: Yeah. At the end of the day, we don't walk away at any time thinking, "I can't believe I just lost to him today. I can't stand losing to him." I think we walk away saying, "Yeah, I don't like losing, but I know..."

T.W.: "...if I didn't win, I wanted him to win."

M.O.: Right. I think that's what friends are all about. Competing, driving each other, pushing each other.

Did you have to change gears at all to compete head-to-head in the World Match Play final?

__M.O.:__Sometimes it can be difficult, but I knew playing him in the final would be fun and challenging. I knew if he got off to a fast start and I let it get to me, I could get trounced. And I was 4 down after six. But, again, I hung in there, figuring he couldn't birdie every hole. There was a nice incident at the 11th.

M.O.: Yeah. He hadn't said a whole lot to that point. He wasn't going to talk unless I said anything. He had his game face on pretty good. On 11, I hit a 9-iron to about 18 inches, leaving a straight-in putt. He was maybe 35 feet away. I was thinking he would give me my putt. I hadn't won a hole, and it was an easy putt. I marked my ball, and he said nothing. I was surprised but thought maybe he didn't like to give a putt like that before he putts. So he misses, and I give him the next putt. Then he walked away. I'm thinking, "This is strange. He's going to make me putt this." When I put my ball down, he's still walking off the green. I called over. He says, "What?" I said, "Are you kidding me? You give me these at home. Are you crazy?" That kinda loosened up the whole thing. He looked at me, smiled, and said, "Hey, putt it." I knew then exactly how I stood.

Tiger, why didn't you go ahead and give him that putt?

T.W.: Well, he hadn't won a hole yet. Really, what I wanted to happen, did. He started to worry a little about me instead of the putt. I started to get into his head. There was a little gamesmanship going on. I really wanted to win, and I know he did, too.

Mark, do you have the feeling you had better make the most of it now, because he's going to get better?

M.O.: Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind that he's close to fulfilling his potential. In my estimation, he's a better player now than he was a year ago.

Do you two compete in things other than golf?

__M.O.:__Everything.

For example?

__M.O.:__Cards.

__T.W.:__Five dollars a fish.

__M.O.:__You name it. Ping-Pong, fishing. I'll never forget the first time we went out fishing. I called this guide, to ask him where the fish were. He told me, so we went over, and the fish were jumping. They were all around the boat. So I asked Tiger, "Have you ever thrown a big cast?" He says, "Oh, yeah, I can throw. Sure. No problem." I took out my rod and gave it to him. He throws it, and it's . . . linguini. I said, "I thought you knew how to throw it." Now he knows exactly what he's doing. He went from a 32-handicapper down to about an 8 or 10. He just doesn't like bugs. Gnats.

__T.W.:__Gnats. I hate that sound.

M.O.: We've got to work harder. He's so sensitive. We've got to get him a little tougher.

Can you take me through a typical day when you're both at home?

__M.O.:__He doesn't understand what it's like to get up early at 5:30 or 6 when you have children and they're going to school. So about 10, 11, he'll stroll out of bed. He might go chip and putt, then he might give me a call. I might be work-ing out or I might be on my boat or whatever, and he'll come over and he might use my gym, and then we might go out and play.

How much do you play for?

M.O.: Our standard deal has always been $5—$5, automatic 1-downs. It does change hands. In fact, he won $30 from me the other day, and he was waiting there to be paid right on the green. I was more than happy to pay him, because I had won $30 from Lee Janzen, so it was a push for me.

Who would you say has benefited the most from your relationship?

M.O.: I'd probably say I have.

T.W.: I'd disagree. I'd say I have. Mark more than anything has pretty much just gotten from me a new enthusiasm for the game. Taken it and run with it.I think of the things he's taught me off the golf course, how to conduct myself as a person. From a golf standpoint, he's taught me the shots, hanging in there, dealing with the press.

Can you go out in public, to a movie?

T.W.: I just go.

__M.O.:__I tried to tell him. For a while he was scared to go out.

T.W.: Just do it.

__M.O.:__Yeah, absolutely. Because the more he tries to back off, then the more people are going to want to be around him.

Mark, do you think the off-the-course stuff is where you've helped him the most?

__M.O.:__Absolutely. Even though his par-ents have played such a key role in his life, like my parents have played a key role in my life, sooner or later you've got to learn on your own or you've got to learn from somebody who's in the same realm. If I can just help him along there, it's great. When I watch him play, whether we're playing in a tournament or whether we're home practicing and messing around, there's no question that I'm a little bit in awe.

In the sense he can do certain things you can't do? What kind of shots, for example?

__M.O.:__You name it. Off the tee, fairway wood. When we're 265 yards out on a par 5 into the wind and he flies a 3-wood into the middle of the green. Sometimes it's his imagination and recovery shots, because his power is far superior to mine.

But I enjoy a challenge as much as he enjoys a challenge. Like when I'm out there on a par 4 and I hit a good drive. I might be 185 yards out, and I'll hit a 4-iron. I know he's up there hitting a 7-iron. I know he's got the big advantage. So I'll hit one in there like this [extends hands], and I'll yell up to him, "Tiger, did you see that one? Is it on the green? I'm 41; I don't see as well anymore. Where did that ball go?" I know he's thinking, "This old guy has done it to me again."

In fact, I have to be honest. This year at the Open Championship at Birkdale, when I was on the 17th green and I had about a 16-footer for birdie, when I was lining it up, all I could think was, "This is just like playing at home. I know he's probably watching right now. I'm going to have to drain this one, because it's going to drive him absolutely nuts." When it went in, I was thinking, "He's going to be saying, 'Aw, he's done it to me again.'" I've got to take my chances while I can, because this ain't going to last.

T.W.: On 18 at Birkdale, my putt was almost exactly like his putt at Augusta this year. Almost identical. It was a little bit longer, but same break, little right to left, just outside the hole. Not much—just start it out there and trust it. If he can do it, I can do it. I've seen him do it, and I've done it right on top of him. Now it's my turn. I'm going to make it. As I was reading the putt, I kept thinking of him staying really steady over the ball, hitting the putt and his arms going up—"OK, now I need to stay steady." I hit the putt, it dropped, and my arms went out. We do feed off each other.

M.O.: He always asked me, not really putting me down, but asking, "Why haven't you done better? I'm surprised you haven't won a major yet."

Now, if he hadn't moved in, I'm not so sure I would have won the Masters and the British Open this year. I might never have won a major championship professionally. The youth and the enthusiasm he carries, and his competitiveness, maybe just made it burn a little bit more inside me, thinking, "Hey, even though Tiger is 22 and he can do things with a golf ball that I can't do, maybe if I get into a position where I have a chance and finally put everything together..."

__For years everyone was saying "Why doesn't Mark O'Meara win a major?" This last year, you got a couple of breaks at the right time and won two. It's such a fine line, isn't it? __

M.O.: Absolutely. I hit the ball better at Sahalee than I did at the Masters or the British Open, and I didn't win [tied for fourth in the PGA Championship].

To win the Masters, you got a break when Fred Couples double-bogeyed the 13th hole. It often comes down to something like that, doesn't it?

M.O.: Definitely. I think that anybody who comes into the pressroom after they win a tournament and doesn't say, "Hey, this was my time," is lying.

What one memory do you have from each of your major wins?

__M.O.:__At Augusta, it's hard to top holing a putt to win like I did, but I remember walking off the 16th green and telling my caddie I was going to birdie the last two holes and win. That isn't my style normally. But I did it.

And Birkdale?

M.O.: The best thing there was having my family around me to see me win. Sitting by the last green watching Brian Watts hit that bunker shot was memorable. When I'm in that position, I expect my opponent to do well. I never wish him to hit a bad shot. If you do, and he does, your guard is down.

You seemed a lot more excited about winning the Open than you were about winning the Masters. True?

M.O.: Without a doubt.

T.W.: No doubt about it.

M.O.: The greatest thing is there are four major championships you can win, along with the U.S. Amateur. If you look at it, when you live in America and you grow up in America, the U.S. Open is a tremendous championship, and it's something I think anybody would love dearly to win. But when you look from the standpoint of worldwide golf, what has the most meaning, who watches, who really cares...

T.W.: And what tests you...

M.O.: And what tests you. The British Open is more recognized throughout the world as the Open championship. I consider myself a player who's enjoyed playing and having some success abroad. Just even coming and playing in the last group of the Open Championship with a chance to win is a thrill.

Not to take anything away from the Masters, because it is a tremendous honor and a great achievement for anyone to play well and win there. But the fact is they don't trick up the golf course at the Open Championship, they play it like the members would play it. The conditions dictate the scoring, and it tests you physically. Tests every element of your game.

That was especially true at Birkdale, where the weather changed daily.

__T.W.:__Four different days. But I think a great example of why the British Open is so great is Faldo shooting what he shoots, 18 under par here when he won [the 1990 Open at St. Andrews] and just killed everybody, and then Daly comes back and shoots six under to get into a playoff [in the 1995 Open]. Same golf course. I think that's what makes it such a great event. At Augusta, it's pretty much the same scores. At the U.S. Open, it's pretty much the same scores. So is the PGA.

Tiger, how many majors will Mark win in his career?

T.W.: He definitely has a few left in him. Now he knows he can do it. Just give him a chance where he has nine holes to go, tied for the lead, one back, just right in there, or you're leading. If he leads, he doesn't ever go backward. Doesn't make bogeys.

Same question for Mark: How many majors will Tiger win?

M.O.: A lot.

You think double digits?

__M.O.:__I do. I don't need to put any more pressure on him; everybody else has. I think he realizes if he plays to his ability, there's no reason he can't if timing and things go his way. I would hope that in the next four to five years, maximum six, he'll have all the major championships under his belt. He'll win every one of them.

Of the remaining three, which is he most likely to win next?

M.O.: The British Open, for sure.

T.W.: I was thinking the same thing. I think that's the one that sets up best for my game.

M.O.: Either the next one, at Carnoustie, or here [St. Andrews] in 2000.

T.W.: I love links golf. Just because I like to create shots. I like to be able to start the ball way out to the left and slice it in there, or run it up, or throw it up on top and spin it. You have all these options. You can use your imagination and you can see different shots. Back home in the States, we're handcuffed by playing target golf.

After such a great year, Mark, do you see yourself as the best player in the world?

M.O.: I really don't. The way I played this year, I should be ranked in the top 10. Yet the way I played today, I should be ranked about 200th. That's the way golf is. But Tiger is the best player in the world.

Tiger, your response?

T.W.: I'm flattered. Obviously, I haven't won as much as David Duval or Lee Westwood or Mark have. Whether I'm No. 1 or not, that's what the points [in the World Rankings] say. It's nice that a player of Mark's caliber believes so, too.

If you could get Tiger to change one thing about himself or his game, what would it be?

__M.O.:__The two things I would say are the two areas that he's working on right now. One would be for him to be a little bit more receptive to people who approach him. Be more approachable, which I think he has been to the public. I know that people out there are going to say, "Well, that's not the case." I'm here to tell you, I watch, I'm smart enough, I'm old enough to witness, and I see a huge improvement in his demeanor and his actions toward the fans out there in realizing, "These people mean nothing but good toward me." There may be a few out there who don't feel that way, but the majority of people want to just feel, "Hey, I said, 'Hi' to Tiger Woods," or "Tiger Woods looked me in the eye." That kind of contact.

The second area, since he has such a sound, technically fundamental golf swing, would be to learn to use his power constantly to his advantage. There's no need for him to stand up and try to hit every drive as far as he can hit it, even though he hits it straight and long. But controlling his distance and trying to always be around pin-high, because he does have a great imagination and a good short game. I'd like to see him be able to control his distance, save his body and use his power at the right time.

Tiger, same question, about Mark.

T.W.: I've been on him ever since I got to know him pretty well to just hit the ball harder. Because Mark has always had a fear of the left ball. I've always had the same fear. Mark has hit it a few times, and it's definitely in his pysche. But he never hits the ball left if he just goes ahead and hits it a little bit harder. I'm not saying lash out at it; maybe 5 or 10 percent more. When he's feeling a little uneasy, Mark tends to slow down his body. And when he slows down his body, his hands outrace his body, and he tends to hit the ball just a little left.

M.O.: Neither of you guys understand I'm saving this for the senior tour. There's no need to show all my cards yet.

For Mark, a hypothetical question: If you played all of Tiger's tee shots this year, would you be anything other than the No. 1 money-winner? How would your scoring average change?

M.O.: I think I could probably be close to leading the money list, if not leading. You can always say "if/would have/could have," but there's a lot of luck in golf, and a lot of luck at the right time that doesn't have anything to do with how far you hit your drive. I think I could've won more tournaments than I have.

Is that just part of the percentages in playing golf for a living? You spend a lot more time losing than winning.

T.W.: No doubt about it.

M.O.: If you win 16 percent of the time...

T.W.: Nicklaus won about 18 percent of the time.

M.O.: I think they were saying something like that—18 percent of the time he teed it up, he won. [At the height of Nicklaus' career, 1962-'78, his winning percentage was 20 percent.]

T.W.: The greatest player to ever play the game.

That's a hell of a percentage.

__T.W.:__But still it's pretty low. If you look at say, college football coaches or something like that.

M.O.: Needless to say, it would be nice to be able to hit it where Tiger hits it off the tee, that's for sure.

Tiger, how would you categorize your performances this year as compared to last year? Are you still on track to beat Nicklaus? I know you've compared your record to his. Where are you right now?

__T.W.:__I have no idea. I just know that obviously he won a lot of tournaments. I've made a lot of improvements this year. I'm very pleased at the improvements, the changes. Just the consistency in my game, my thought process, just my overall game has gotten better.

__M.O.:__I think your ball flight. You've improved your ball flight.

__T.W.:__Short game.

M.O.: He's been improving his distance control.

T.W.: I haven't putted as well as I did last year. I've putted better this year in streaks, but overall not as well.

People find you two a rather odd couple with the age gap. Any other ways you've influenced each other?

M.O.: He used to not be a clean freak, and I'm a clean freak. Now he's catching up. I remember he had a nice new car he hadn't washed in a year or whatever. I said, "Bring that thing over here. I'll wash it, I'll wax it. I'm doing all my cars." So now I've got him totally trained.

T.W.: Now I'm a neat freak, and I need to have my cars clean.

Are you now like Justin Leonard, lining up your socks according to color?

__T.W.:__I'm not that bad. I like my vehicles. Things that I come home to, I want to have it nice and orderly.

M.O.: Yeah, things you worked hard for.

T.W.: Exactly.

M.O.: Let me ask you a question: Would it be sacrilegious to have a pressure-washer company go out there [St. Andrews] and pressure-wash all the buildings? You could really brighten everything up a little bit.

They did that to the Royal and Ancient clubhouse a few years ago.

__M.O.:__Did everybody get upset?

No. It was this horrible, off-brown color.

__M.O.:__When you're walking up 18 tomorrow, just look to the right. Now, I think it's magical, and this is the greatest place in the world. But I was thinking to myself, "If you came in here with a pressure-washer and pressure-washed all those buildings, what would people think?"

It's the old-world charm.

M.O.: Don't touch it, don't fix it.

__T.W.:__All the birds have been on there.

Let's shift gears. When did you first meet, and when did you first play together?

__M.O.:__I had seen Tiger when he played the U.S. Junior at Bay Hill. He told me he was 15 at the time. I went out and watched him play three holes, and I was pretty impressed. I saw his drive on 9, and it was bombed. It was like, "OK, I've seen enough. Obviously this kid is pretty special." We played together when he was 17, and he was pretty quiet.

Have we made too much of your friendship? Do you get fed up hearing about it?

T.W.: I don't. I'm very proud of our relationship.

Have we overdone it?

T.W.: Overdone it? I really don't get asked that much, to be honest. He's probably asked more than I am.

__M.O.:__Actually everywhere I go. Obviously people want to talk about Tiger Woods, or they want to talk to him. If they can't talk to him, they might want to talk to me, because I know him so well.

Are you thinking, "What about me?"

__M.O.:__No, that's O.K. When I play in France or I play in Germany or I play in places where Tiger hasn't been, people come up to me and say, "Hey, can you go back and tell Tiger how nice this tournament is? Maybe he'll come and play next year." If he wants to do it, great. If he doesn't, that's fine, too. He has got to learn like I had to learn.

I remember specifically the first year we played Bay Hill, Tiger called me and said, "Do you want to play a practice round?" A lot of times, I enjoy going out playing and nobody watches me play. I go out and play a practice round, not one person will watch me. That's kind of cool, because if I hit some bad shots, I don't have to worry about embarrassing myself. So he calls and says, "Do you want to play?" I'm saying, "OK, we'll play." He says, "What time?" I say, "6:45, 7." He says, "What? What are you talking about?"

I say, "Well, you called me. You asked me what time I'm going to play a practice round, I told you what time I'm going to play. If you don't want to play, you don't have to come. Let me fill you in on something else. This is why it's fun: We tee off early, first of all, so there won't be anybody out there watching us play. We can have a nice relaxing nine holes or 10 holes and then whatever. If we go out at 11 or 12, we're going to have 5,000 people watching you play, and then I'll be picking off half of the people with errant shots, worrying about my swing or my game or how I'm embarrassing myself." It's fun to go out and play golf and not have anybody watch.

Is that the big attraction of Isleworth?

M.O.: Very much so.

T.W.: Great bunch of people we get to hang around with and just talk to. It's just great.

You must appreciate that more than most.

T.W.: I love it.

Have the two of you ever been beaten in a better-ball match versus other Isleworth members?

__T.W.:__Us two? I'm sure we have. We have some great players down there. But if four guys get together, usually it's some kind of skins game.

Let's talk about a less-relaxed atmosphere. At the last Ryder Cup, you two were a highly touted team, but you won only once in three matches. The simple question: Why?

__T.W.:__The first match we ham-and-egged it pretty good. The next few matches, they did play well and we didn't make the key putts. If you look at that entire Ryder Cup, team-wise we didn't make the putts at the right time. They holed everything, were chipping in. We missed a couple of putts we really needed to make. When you do that, you leave the door wide open.

Do you anticipate playing together again?

T.W.: I have to get on the team first.

M.O.: That's such a ways off. I think we would be more prepared, because we know each other's games better.

Is it true that there are three levels of pressure: winning a tournament, winning a major championship, and then the Ryder Cup?

T.W.: The Ryder Cup is unique. I have never played any team event on our home soil. I played a World Cup in France, I played a Walker Cup in Wales, played a Ryder Cup in Spain, and I'm going to play a Presidents Cup in Australia [scheduled for December 1998]. I have never played on our home turf. And I have always been booed in every spot. When I was playing Rocca, I was booed on every hole. It's different. As I described it, it was more of a soccer atmosphere than a normal golf event. Is it an enjoyable experience?

T.W.: Golf-wise, I loved it.

Off the course?

T.W.: I don't see us getting ready for majors by going to functions every night until midnight.

Is there too much of that?

__M.O.:__Well, if you want to win the Ryder Cup, if I was the captain, I think an opening ceremony for the public to see both teams get together, maybe a short cocktail party, do the press interviews or whatever, then you are out of there. And maybe one dinner function, one gala ball function. That's it, no more. Maybe a closing ceremony. But not a closing dinner. The losing team doesn't need to be hanging around, because the winning team wants to celebrate and the losing team...If you show me a losing player who walks away and says, "That was fun. I really enjoyed playing in that," I'll show you a guy who shouldn't be doing what he's doing.

__T.W.:__At the Walker Cup, we had one function, and that was it.

M.O.: That's because you're not getting paid there.

T.W.: That's true.

M.O.: We're not getting paid at the Ryder Cup either. What I find funny is, I've played professional golf for 18 years. I've never tried to be a controversial player. I've always tried to respect the game and the fans and everybody and my fellow peers. I make a comment about my feelings about the Ryder Cup [O'Meara stated that players or their designated charities should be compensated for their participation], only because if you ask me an honest question...

If somebody asked me an honest question, why should I have to lie? Now, if people don't agree with me, I can understand that. But for people to rip me for my view on that, I don't think they see the whole picture. I've played on four teams. I'm not trying to be greedy. I don't need the money, but on the other hand, if I'm an independent contractor and I'm a professional golfer, this is what I do for a living. I have no problem with the Ryder Cup. But I have a problem when somebody makes money off of me.

I read some article somewhere, some guy wrote in and said, "This Tom Lehman and Mark O'Meara saying that players should be paid for the Ryder Cup, I'd love to have a week's paid vacation in Europe."

T.W.: I never saw it.

M.O.: We saw the hotel, we saw the airplane, we saw the bus ride to the hotel, we saw the ride from the hotel to the golf course, to the function, back to the hotel, back to the golf course.

T.W.: We never had a relaxing moment. We never had a time where the team could go out, just get away from everything.

__M.O.:__Both teams should get together.

__T.W.:__That's right. That's supposed to be a fun event.

M.O.: Supposed to be challenging, competitive. I think Samuel Ryder meant it to be that way. Guys go out, compete against each other, you get done, I beat you, you beat me, we shake hands, we go back to the pub, we have a beer or whatever and relax and enjoy our lives and move on. Once again, you're supposed to be sportsmen; you're supposed to be human beings; you're supposed to go out there and compete.

And you know them all so well anyway.

T.W.: Exactly. They're all friends of ours. We see them every week.

__M.O.:__There is no need to have enemies on either side. That's ridiculous. We didn't play up to our expectations last time. The European team played better. They won. We lost. That's fine. We come home and we get shredded in the paper, that we're spoiled millionaires. We can't win the big event. We're not any good. I just don't understand.

T.W.: I look back at the '95 Ryder Cup when Curtis was absolutely shredded in the press for losing that match to Faldo. It happens. Sometimes we can't hit the shots when we need to. It's part of the game. He just got crucified. And still is getting crucified. One player was the guy who was picked out who ruined the Ryder Cup for the United States.

M.O.: Here's what else needs a change: Instead of having just two captain's picks, I think they just need to take the top 12.

Ideally, if everyone was playing their own tour. But too many of the top Europeans play in America.

M.O.: So what? You guys have won the Ryder Cup the last few times.

That's your fault.

__M.O.:__No, it's not. I'm a "spoiled millionaire." No, I'm not. I wish I were. The problem is, the more you make, the more you spend.

Let's move to another subject. Who is the better dresser between you two, on the course?

__M.O.:__Did you put these questions together?

Some of them. The good ones.

__M.O.:__That's what I thought. To answer your question, I think I've improved. I think I'm probably better for the 40-year-olds, and he's probably better for the 25-year-olds.

T.W.: He finally got an iron.

M.O.: I have never ironed a shirt in my life.

T.W.: I always iron. Every morning I have got to iron all my stuff. Got to do it. Even if it's dry-cleaned, I'll iron it just a little bit, all the little creases.

M.O.: Probably off the course he dresses a little better.

T.W.: It's just that I like to do it. So I look nice and clean.

M.O.: He's young, single, a pretty good-looking guy, has done well financially. I'm older. I have a great wife, family, kids. Who am I trying to impress? That's the way it works.

You have never fixed him up with any dates then?

M.O.: One time. Babysitter. He's pretty open-minded. If I call and ask him if he wants to do something, he's usually pretty receptive. He doesn't bag me very often. Another question for Mark. Which would you rather have if you could have only one: Tiger's distance or his bank account?

T.W.: One leads to the other.

M.O.: I'd rather have his bank account. I'm not going to lie.

If you had the distance, you might win everything.

M.O.: I'm already over that. I don't want to be 22 and start all over. I'm very happy to be 41 and having a fine career. There have been times when I've said, "Man, I wish I could hit one drive like that." Especially like the other day when he hit a drive 80 yards past me and I went home. I thought maybe he thought it was like an 18-handicapper he was playing golf with. I'm back there with a 2-iron and he's going in there with a wedge, and that's a little embarrassing. I'm a professional, I won two majors this year. But I think it's the bank account I would have to go for.

Tiger, you can have only one of these things: Mark's putting prowess or his relative lack of celebrity?

M.O.: [interjecting] No. 2.

Why would you say that?

M.O.: Because his putting stroke is almost as good as mine anyway. In fact, better.

T.W.: You can always work on your putting and improve it. You can't always work on the other one and improve that.

M.O.: That's why he has the bank account. With one comes the other.

Is Tiger really as bad a basketball player as Lee Janzen and Payne Stewart claim?

M.O.: No, I don't think so. Those guys talk a pretty big game. He's a lot better than I am. He doesn't like to dribble with his left hand much, but I don't know any guy who's right-handed who likes to dribble with the left too much. I'll tell you what, he and I will go play those two guys. We'll take them on. If they're that good, then they can spot us a few points and we'll take 'em.

For better or worse, majors tend to define careers. Tiger got his quickly and spectacularly; Mark, you took a while longer. Are we overemphasizing the majors?

M.O.: I don't think so. You look at the four majors and the TPC, those are the five tournaments where everybody gets together. That's why these world events will have some impact. But still, the history and the importance, that's not going to take away from the major championships.

Is that ultimately what sets them apart? Just because it's the U.S. Open or British Open?

__T.W.:__More than anything, it's the history of the majors. What has transpired, the drama, the people who've won.

Are the changes at Augusta—lengthening the second and 17th holes; adding clusters of trees to tighten the fairway at the 15th and 17th; cutting back the mounds at the 15th; raising the 11th green—going to help or hinder the both of you?

M.O.: Until we see them, I really can't comment. I was pointing out to Tiger some of the new tees they built here [St. Andrews]. People say, "Should they have done that?" The Old Course has stood the test of time. I personally wouldn't have touched this golf course. Why start messing with the golf course?

They have always made improvements at Augusta, slowly but surely. That's a big change. Twenty yards on No. 2; 25 yards on No. 17. I have a hard time hitting over that tree now, the Eisenhower tree.

T.W.: It'll just show you that time hasn't really changed all that much. Fifty years before Mark won, Butch's dad, Claude Harmon, won with the same score, 9 under par. Identical score. Really hasn't changed that much.

__What was your reaction to all the talk about changing Augusta National to "Tigerproof" it after you set the record? __

__T.W.:__It was one year. If it would have happened for four or five or six years in a row with not only myself but with other young players, even older players doing that, shooting great numbers year after year, then you might take a look at it. I had a great year. I won by 12 shots. That's a huge difference. If the winning score is between 15 and 20 under par at Augusta National every year, then I can understand them changing the golf course and making it harder and bring-ing everybody together a bit more.

I didn't think it was right for them to Tigerproof Augusta National just because of one great year. I put it all together. It was like John Huston putting it together this year, shoots 28 under par in Hawaii. You're not going to go John Huston-proof the golf course. We as golfers can't do it back-to-back-to-back. More than anything, just commend the player for playing well.

How onerous do you think the title of "best player never to have won a major" is? Does that weigh heavily on the likes of Colin Montgomerie and Phil Mickelson?

T.W.: It shouldn't, because they know how good they are. Everyone else in the world knows how good they are. It's just they don't get the breaks or maybe haven't been able to hit the shots at the right time to win a major. They are some of the greatest players in the world, and it's just a matter of time. Maybe they just need another person to hit a bad drive or they make a great putt at a key time and, boom, they win a major.

Like we said with Mark this past year.

T.W.: With Mark, exactly. So, Colin is not very far off, Phil is not very far off. It's just a matter of time before it just unfolds and it just happens.

Mark, this probably applies more to you than it does to Tiger. How heavy is that burden on Montgomerie and Mickelson?

M.O.: I think it does weigh on those guys. Because both those players are ex-cellent players. You look at Colin's record, six straight times he has won the European Order of Merit. I think that's got to bother him. He knows how to win; he has won. There's no reason he shouldn't win a major championship, and he probably will.

You've got to look at it in a positive light. You can use it as a motivator, too. You can use it from the standpoint that, "Hey, this is pretty nice. People think I'm so good that I should be doing better than I am."

You were in that group for quite a long time.

M.O.: I viewed it like, once again, you have to judge yourself. At night when I went to bed, I felt like, "Hey, I live in a nice home, have a great wife and two kids. Am I disappointed if my career came to an end and I hadn't won a professional major? Yes. But would I say that I was a complete failure? No."

Come on. I mean, I've made quite a bit of money; I've played all over the world; I've met a lot of neat people. If you would've told me that when I first started playing, I would've said, "Absolutely, you give me that and I'll care less if I ever win a major championship."

What sort of things have you learned from each other off the golf course?

__M.O.:__I've learned I had better get in the gym and start working out more. Which I've been trying to do. You know, if you're 41 years old and you're playing with somebody who's 22...

T.W.: I've been getting on him for a while about that.

M.O.: I've always tried to watch out for myself physically, but I honestly can't say I was as committed as he is. But I've been able to play a long period of time without any substantial injuries.

Tiger, do you think you'll ever be as good a player as Mark?

__T.W.:__There's one thing I would like to emulate about Mark—his consistency, week in, week out. I mean, he never misses a cut. He's always finishing in the top 10 and just playing solid golf. If he doesn't win, he's right there.

Mark, same question: Do you think you'll ever be as good a player as Tiger?

M.O.: No.

Why not?

M.O.: Just because he's a lot better player than I am. That's an honest answer. A lot of times people say, "I would love to be Tiger Woods. I would love to be Michael Jordan. I would love to be Ken Griffey Jr." You know, the superstar. But think before you say things like that. You can't be someone else, no matter what level you are.

The Woods file

Birth date: Dec. 30, 1975.

Birthplace: Cypress, Calif.

Residence: Windermere, Fla.

Height: 6-foot-2.

Weight: 160 pounds.

College: Stanford.

Turned professional: 1996.

Professional victories (7)

1996—Las Vegas Inv., Walt Disney World/ Oldsmobile Cl.

1997—Mercedes Ch., Masters, GTE Byron Nelson Cl., Motorola Western Open.

1998—BellSouth Cl.

Other

1996 Rookie of the Year.

Victories: 1991, 1992, 1993 U.S. Jr. Amateur Ch.; 1994, 1995, 1996 U.S. Amateur Ch.; 1997 Asian Honda Cl.; 1998 Johnnie Walker Cl.

National teams

Ryder Cup: 1997--1-3-1.

Dunhill Cup: 1998--3-1-0.

Walker Cup: 1995--2-2.

The O'Meara file

__Birth date:__Jan. 13, 1957

Birthplace: Goldsboro, N.C.

Residence: Windermere, Fla.

__Family:__Wife, Alicia; Michelle (age 11), Shaun Robert (9).

Height: 6-feet.

Weight: 180 pounds.

__College:__Long Beach State.

Turned professional: 1980.

Professional victories (16)

1984—Greater Milwaukee Open.

1985—Bing Crosby Pro-Am, Hawaiian Open.

1989—ATT Pebble B. National Pro-Am.

1990—ATT Pebble B. National Pro-Am, H-E-B Texas Open.

1991—Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Cl.

1992—ATT Pebble B. National Pro-Am.

1995—Honda Cl., Bell Canadian Open.

1996—Mercedes Ch., Greater Greensboro Chrysler Cl.

1997—ATT Pebble B. National Pro-Am, Buick Invitational.

1998—Masters, British Open.

Other

1981 Rookie of the Year.

Victories: 1979 U.S. Amateur Ch.; 1985 Fuji Sankei Cl; 1986

Australian Masters; 1987 Lawrence Batley Int'l.; 1992 Tokai Cl.; 1994 Argentine Open; 1997 Lancôme Trophy; 1998 Cisco World Match Play Ch.

National teams

Ryder Cup: 1985--1-2-0; 1989--0-2-0; 1991--1-1-1; 1997--2-2-0. Totals--4-7-1.

Presidents Cup: 1996--5-0-0.

Dunhill Cup: 1985--3-1; 1986--3-1; 1987--3-1; 1996--3-2; 1997--4-0; 1998--2-1-1. Totals--18-6-1.