1998: Mark O'Meara wins first Masters title
It was high drama with a surprise twist in the final reel on a glorious Easter Sunday at the Augusta National Golf Club.
Mark O'Meara, suspect under major-championship pressure through an otherwise stellar career, achieved something only two other golfers in Masters Tournament history have accomplished.
The Orlando, Fla., resident birdied the final two holes to win the 62nd Masters by a shot over 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples and former Georgia Tech golfer David Duval.
O'Meara, a winner of 14 PGA Tour titles in an 18-year career, played the final 36 holes at the Augusta National in 9-under-par 135 fashion, shooting 68 on Saturday and 67 on Sunday. He won $576,000, or more than double what O'Meara had won in seven starts on the PGA Tour this season.
O'Meara ended up 9-under-par 279. He opened with rounds of 74-70.
The win broke the 41-year-old O'Meara's streak of 56 straight major championships without a victory and came in his 15th try at the Augusta National. No one had ever played in that many Masters and then won the title.
``I know this game has always been based around performance in major championships,'' O'Meara said. ``I knew there were comments about why I hadn't won one. If I'd known what the answer was, I would have solved the problem. Today, it was timing, a little bit of luck and doing things at the right time.''
``Mark has been around the game a long time and done a lot of good things for golf,'' said the 27-year-old Duval. ``I think this completes his legacy. It proves he's a true champion.''
O'Meara, facing a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that would bring him the coveted green jacket, didn't want to make the day last any longer than it already had.
The right-to-left breaking sidehill putt caught the left side of the hole and the game was up.
``When I was over the putt, I said to myself, `This is what it's all about. This is what you come to play for. There's no need to go in a playoff. There is no need to go down the 10th fairway.' It was my opportunity. Fortunately, I seized it,'' O'Meara said.
``The guy birdies Nos. 15, 17 and 18 ... I shot 67. It took a 20-footer on the last hole to beat me and Fred,'' Duval said. ``It didn't surprise me. I've played a lot with Mark. That's just how he putts. He's one of the best putters out here. He makes an awful lot of them. It shouldn't surprise anybody that he made that putt.''
O'Meara had the fewest putts of anyone in the field this year -- 105 for the 72 holes, or 26.2 per round.
``You always expect him to make it,'' said Couples, O'Meara's playing partner on Sunday. ``I knew he was going to hit a good putt. Once it went in, I was thrilled for him. I felt like scooping my coin (marker) and getting in the (scoring) tent and getting out of there. He played a great round and he topped it off with a birdie.''
After O'Meara made his winning putt, he had to wait for Couples to putt out. Couples made a 5-footer for par to tie Duval for second place and complete a 70.
Only Art Wall in 1959 and Arnold Palmer in 1960 birdied the final two holes to win. Wall, Palmer, Gary Player in 1978 and Sandy Lyle in 1988 and now O'Meara are the only golfers to birdie the last hole of the Masters and win by a shot.
O'Meara, two shots off the pace set by Couples after 54 holes, never led in the tournament until he drained the birdie putt on No. 18. Only five other Masters champions took their first lead on the 72nd hole.
As is a Masters tradition, O'Meara was presented the green jacket by the previous year's champion. That, of course, happened to be Tiger Woods, O'Meara's good friend and neighbor in Orlando.
Woods, who shot 71-72-72-70 -- 285 to finish tied for eighth place, said, ``I was a very proud friend. It meant a lot to me and it will mean a lot to Mark to wear the jacket.''
``What does Tiger mean to Mark O'Meara?'' O'Meara said. ``You know, I compete against him. I have to find some way to get around the advantages he has. I think he has brought my game up a bit.''
Almost stealing O'Meara's thunder was six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus. At age 58, Nicklaus thrilled the gallery with a 4-under-par 68 that had the pine trees rattling from thunderous cheers. At one point early in the round, Nicklaus was within two shots of Couples' lead. At the time, Nicklaus had just birdied the seventh hole to go 4-under-par for the tournament. Couples was 6-under, back on the third hole. Nicklaus never got below 4-under-par for the day, though he had numerous chances.
``It was pretty neat to see Jack right there on the board where he used to be,'' Woods said. ``It's pretty nostalgic, especially being as old as he is.''
Couples and O'Meara went to the 18th hole tied with Duval, who had already completed his round. He was watching the action on television in the Jones Cabin, located adjacent to the 10th hole.
O'Meara played the hole in textbook fashion. A natural right-to-left player, O'Meara was able to fade his drive into the middle of the fairway, leaving him 148 yards to the hole. He hit a 7-iron 20 feet from the hole.
Couples, meanwhile, was struggling to make par. His drive found the far fairway bunker. From there he hit it in the right greenside bunker. Couples then blasted to within 5 feet of the hole.
Before he could putt, O'Meara ran in his birdie putt. Couples then made his par putt to tie Duval for second place.
Until his late-round fireworks, O'Meara appeared to just be along for the ride. He trailed Couples all day until tying him with the birdie on No. 17. It was Duval who took the lead from Couples on the 13th hole with a birdie while Couples made double bogey.
With five holes to play, O'Meara trailed Duval by three shots. He cut the margin to two shots with a birdie on No. 15. After he parred No. 16 and Duval bogeyed it, O'Meara was one shot back.
``After I saw he made bogey on No. 16, I said I'm one back with three to go,'' O'Meara said. ``I knew I was still in the thick of things.
``I had a good feeling going up the 17th fairway,'' O'Meara said. ``I told my caddie, `Jerry (Higgenbothem) if I birdie the last two holes, this tournament could be mine. I always feel if I give myself the opportunity down the stretch, I can get the job done.''
``We watched the scoreboard going to No. 16,'' Higgenbothem said. ``The sun was right in our eyes. Mark asked me what Duval finished at. I told him 8 (under-par). Mark said, `He's going to be one short.'''
That's what happened, as O'Meara birdied the 17th with an 8-foot putt and then put an exclamation mark on the victory with the birdie on No. 18.
Duval made up six shots on Couples in a five-hole stretch starting on No. 9 to bolt into the championship picture. Duval made birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 11, parred the 12th and birdied No. 13. Couples bogeyed No. 9, parred Nos. 10 through 12 and then made the double bogey on No. 13.
Just like that, Duval led by two shots over O'Meara and Couples with four to play.
Little-known David Toms, playing in his first Masters, fired a 64 to finish at 283. Toms was out in 1-under-par 35 and looked like a lost cause. He bogeyed No. 10, parred 11, then birdied Nos. 12-17. A par on 18 gave him a course-record tying 29 on the back nine and a 64 for the day, one shot off the course record.
Mark Calcavecchia also shot a 29 on the back nine in the fourth round of the 1992 Masters. Toms did break the tournament record for low round by be first-year player and low four-round by a first-year player.