PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Mark O'Meara had all sorts of things he could have talked about Friday after his 1-under-par 71 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
He could have talked about his return to the event he's won a record five times or how he intends to try to qualify for the U.S. Open when it returns to Pebble Beach in June. There also was his pairing with Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club. Payne approached the 1998 Masters champion last fall about partnering in this week's event because Payne preferred to play with a former Masters winner. (O'Meara, Vijay Singh, Mike Weir and Sandy Lyle were the only players in the field fitting that criteria.)
Instead, O'Meara covered some more old ground with more questions about his close friend and No. 1 player in the world, Tiger Woods, who is still on a voluntary leave from professional golf, the latest evidence being his failure to enter next week's Accenture Match Play Championship, which he has won three times.
O'Meara, like everyone else, has no idea when Woods will return. But he's certain that he'll still be the man to beat when he does step on the golf course again.
"He comes right out after the knee stuff last year and wins Buick (Invitational at Torrey Pines). This is what he does," said O'Meara, who stands at 4-over 148 after opening with a 77 Thursday at Spyglass Hill. "His best characteristic is competing and playing golf. That's what he loves to do. I think he watches golf all the time. I wouldn't be surprised to find out he has been following golf very closely even though he's been out of the game. When he does choose to come back I hope he's ready to come back. I hope a lot of the issues that have transpired, he can get himself straight. He's not the first human being to make a mistake. He's a strong man, emotionally. I see him coming back and playing well. I wouldn't be shocked to see him win again."
Though O'Meara considers Tiger among his closest friends, he reiterated Friday that he hasn't talked to Woods and doesn't know when he'll return. Along those same lines, he was surprised by what eventually was revealed about Woods' personal life after a car accident in Orlando in the early morning hours the day after Thanksgiving.
"I was shocked, to be honest with you," said O'Meara, 53, who had briefly discussed the Woods situation earlier this week in a press conference for the Toshiba Classic, a Champions Tour event. "But I really haven't been around Tiger very much the last three years because I've been playing the Champions Tour, and I haven't been living in Orlando. We just have different schedules. But we've made the same statements many times; I was like his big brother and he was my younger brother. He helped me through some tough times the last few years. But I just haven't been able to be around him that much to see what's happened."