PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Forget the fact that it's been nearly 13 years since Mark O'Meara won his last event as a member of the PGA Tour, the 1998 British Open. It's been eight years since he even teed it up at the Players Championship.
Yet on Thursday, O'Meara opened with a six-under 66 at TPC Sawgrass' Stadium Course to find himself in a tie for third with David Toms. The 54-year-old sits just two strokes behind Nick Watney, who is a quarter-century younger. But can he keep it up?
"I hope so," said O'Meara, who qualified for this tournament by winning the Senior Players Championship in October. "I'm here, I'm going to try. I'm not going to try to do anything else other than try to keep plugging away one shot at a time and see where it takes me."
O'Meara may not have played here since his three straight missed cuts from 2001-03, but he's been playing in this event since 1981 -- the year before it moved from Sawgrass Country Club. His best finish was a solo third in 1987.
So while O'Meara's pal, Tiger Woods, grabbed most of the attention early in round one with his withdrawal after nine holes, it was the Champions Tour star who ended up turning in the day's most surprise performance, capped by a 30-footer for birdie on No. 18.
"I think my attitude was good out there today," O'Meara said. "I thought that was a big key, and I putted extremely well. I made some good par-putt saves and I made some wonderful birdie putts."
Having played a practice round with Woods on Tuesday and saying his golf game was "very close," O'Meara was stunned when he checked his phone this morning and saw how badly Woods was struggling. Despite the injury, he thinks the 14-time major champion is generally in a good state mentally. His main evidence? Woods picking up the dinner check for the table Wednesday night.
"It's not that often he goes to the hip, so I'm saying to you, he's doing better," a chuckling O'Meara said.
-- Alex Myers
Follow on Twitter: [@AlexMyers3
(Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)