Golf: Why resurgent O'Meara keeps taking the pills

The 41-year-old American has found a new lease of life thanks to vitamins and a calmer approach.
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HE IS not on Viagra, just a course of vitamins and multivitamins. "I have been taking them for a year and a half," said Mark O'Meara. "On tour, you don't eat properly and stress depletes the vitamin supply in your body. I have noticed a big change. I could pass a drugs test."

Something has got into O'Meara's system. He may not be the best golfer in the world but, at the age of 41, he has discovered the secret of beating the best. His duel with Tiger Woods in the final of the Cisco World Match Play Championship was a classic encounter and his triumph on a golden autumnal afternoon capped a golden year for O'Meara.

"There is no way I can honestly say that I could have dreamed I'd be sitting here as the Masters champion, the Open champion and now the World Match Play champion," he said.

When he arrived home in Florida last night, O'Meara was able to place the trophy alongside those he won at Augusta and Royal Birkdale in his private den, a room where he can watch the Golf Channel, ESPN, a movie or take a nap away from the rest of the family.

"I don't think I take enough time, nobody does, to cherish the moment. But, believe me, I know how special those events are and how wonderful it is at this stage of my life to accomplish these things." O'Meara will not have much time at home in the next few months, having suddenly become one of the principal guests at such end of season beanos as the Grand Slam and the Million Dollar Challenge.

But when he gets home from the Presidents Cup in Melbourne in the second week in December, that will be that. He is not looking to the future. "Who cares about next year?" he said. "I'll do the best I can. If I don't live up to this year, then you can tell me it was all a fluke and that I can't play a lick. But my bank account is doing OK."

On New Year's Eve last year, such golfing triumphs were the furthest things from O'Meara's mind. "I spent some time with my family and reflected on the fact that I was about to turn 41, that I have been very, very consistent and had a great career. I felt whatever happened, I'm going to be all right. Winning the Masters took a little pressure off myself. That was a huge step for me.

"When I hit a couple of bad shots, I'm thinking: `Wait a minute, you won the Masters and the Open and you shouldn't hit shots like that'. But I try to forget the bad shots. Mentally, I just don't get quite as upset when I hit a bad shot, just move forward and laugh it off."

There was a time on Sunday afternoon when O'Meara and Woods were trading dazzling approach shots, trying to see how far away they could be and still hit to 'gimme' range. O'Meara won that duel when his two-iron from 218 yards at the 12th hit the flagstick and finished two feet away.

But when O'Meara hit two bad drives at the 15th and 16th, he was undeterred. He lost the 15th but drained a "must make" 18-footer for a par, after which a shocked Woods three-putted to fall behind. "I enjoy the fact that I'm nervous out there and that there is an uncertainty about what is going to happen," O'Meara said. "I am proud of myself for coming through when the pressure is on."

It is not something that is easily recreated in practice unless, like O'Meara, your training partner happens to be the world No 1. Some of the ruthlessness that Woods brought on to the circuit from his amateur days has rubbed off on O'Meara, but equally Woods has visibly gained in maturity from his association with a "big brother" some 19 years the elder.

Witness Woods' gracious acceptance of defeat in a match he desperately wanted to win and the reaction to his woefully short drive at the 17th. His second shot, with a three-iron, was a perfectly controlled hook around the trees at the corner of the dogleg, leaving himself in the middle of the fairway and still with a chance to get up and down for the birdie he needed and duly claimed.

The shot was only bettered by a similar banana-bender at the 13th, this time from the rough with an eight-iron which finished eight feet from the hole. "I could never hit a golf ball like Tiger does," O'Meara said admiringly.

"He has a lot more shots, a lot more power and more imagination. What I might have is a little bit more wisdom, a little more patience - although he is improving in that area - and I made some clutch putts when I had to."

It is worth remembering that Woods only made the final by producing an inspired spell of putting himself late in his semi-final win over Lee Westwood. The 25-year-old Englishman, also enjoying a fine debut in the event, wilted on the greens just at the same moment. But throughout their encounter, there was not much to choose between the two from tee-to-green, such was the quality of Westwood's ball-striking.

If Woods has done much for O'Meara, his presence at Wentworth did much to boost the World Match Play, which produced high class golf and exciting matches on all four days. It is to be hoped that Woods will keep his promise to return to Wentworth sooner rather than later. The fact that O'Meara will be defending the title next year might persuade him to make it sooner.