Golf: Defending champion no match for runaway O'Meara

Tim Glover at Wentworth sees the old master achieve a record
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The Independent Online
PERHAPS IT is time the boys from the science lab had a look at Mark O'Meara. On the face of it he appears to be a suitable case for receiving treatment.

It is true that not all golfers look like Olympic athletes but O'Meara is positively avuncular. The American, for crying out loud, is 41 and looks eligible for a bus pass but yesterday he cruised down the Burma Road at Wentworth, flattening the defending champion Vijay Singh en route to today's final of the World Matchplay Championship.

No American has won this autumn classic for 19 years but that is about to change. O'Meara's winning margin was 11 and 10, surpassing the record victory of Tom Watson in this championship over Dale Hayes in 1978. At least Hayes will be grateful for yesterday's massacre. After 20 years his name has been expunged from the hall of infamy.

A year ago O'Meara might have been heading for the autumn of his career, yet it has turned into a remarkable season of mellow fruitfulness. Prior to this year, O'Meara was considered a journeyman, the game's euphemism for a solid pro who was more likely to buy his round than win one. Is it just coincidence that Viagra appeared on the market as O'Meara's game experienced lift-off?

He had been on the circuit for nearly 20 years and when he entered the Masters at Augusta National last April he was the greatest outsider to land the big one since Luxembourg. Without seeming to appear on the leaderboard at any stage, he holed a 20ft putt at the 18th in the final round to win the Green Jacket, his first major, receiving the coveted garment from his close friend Tiger Woods who had won it by an arm and a leg the year before.

Then O'Meara put one over on Tiger by winning the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in July, beating Woods into third place. Nor were these isolated upsets. O'Meara is fifth in the US Tour money-list this season with US$1,687,359 [pounds 993,000] and today he could take home another pounds 170,000.

Given his form this year, not to mention this past week, O'Meara, who had disposed of Colin Montgomerie five and four in the second round, obviously had a good chance against Singh but what was not anticipated was the wholesale slaughter. In baseball terms O'Meara was Mark McGwire while the Fijian never got to first base.

On Friday Singh said to O'Meara: "Better you than Monty." Famous last words. After the semi-final he declined an invitation to come into the press tent.

The damnedest thing is that Singh is also enjoying the season of his life. He won his first major, the US PGA Championship in Seattle in August, pushing his earnings on the US tour to US$1,764,998. That is more than either Woods or O'Meara. Not only that but he had opened his defence of the World Matchplay in the most impressive fashion, getting to dormie 11 against Patrik Sjoland on Friday before winning 7 and 6.

Vijay's golf was as scintillating then as it was uninspired yesterday. Clearly uncomfortable with the wet conditions which had delayed the start of play, he managed just four birdies in 26 holes, six bogeys. Apart from the first hole, which he halved with a four, his putting was unreliable and his driving erratic.

Twelve months ago they were saying it ain't over 'til Vijay sings. Yesterday it was over after seven holes by which stage he was six down.

O'Meara went to the turn in the morning in 31 and there was no let-up. He won the 13th, 14th, 16th and 17th to go into lunch 10 up. The story of Vijay's collapse was illustrated in colour at the 16th, where he took three putts, and the 17th where he drove out of bounds before conceding the hole. The squirrels had visited less trees.

O'Meara's preferred opponent in the final was Woods, not just because he is a neighbour in Florida but because he thought the crowd would have no favourite.

"Last time I played him," O'Meara said, "he took $30 off me. But I'm not stupid. In double or quits I took it back on the putting green."

Westwood interview,

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