PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Mark O’Meara walked into the interview room at TPC Sawgrass, looked at the awaiting throng of reporters and exclaimed to none in particular, “I know you’re surprised to see me.”
Yes, we were. After all, the interview room is home base for those who have made the biggest stride up the leaderboard on a given day – and there was no indication that O’Meara was going to be one of those players.
At 54 years old and eight years removed from his last Players Championship appearance, O’Meara has only played four PGA Tour events in the past two seasons and hasn’t reached the weekend in any of them. And yet, there he was in the interview room on Thursday, following a sublime opening-round 6-under 66 that left him in a share of third place through 18 holes.
“I said to myself, ‘Hey, I know no one expects me to play well, but you know what? There's no reason why I can't go out there and play well,’” O’Meara said after the round. “I don't want to come here and not play well. I want to play well. And fortunately today I did, and hopefully I can keep it up.”
O’Meara posted seven birdies against one bogey, leaving him just two strokes behind overnight leader Nick Watney. In eight starts on the Champions Tour so far this year, he has yet to win, but hasn’t finished lower than T-14.
Perhaps the reigning Senior Players champion was spurred on by a Wednesday night dinner with longtime friend Tiger Woods.
“My wife Meredith said, ‘How's Mark hitting it?’ He says, ‘Short.’” O’Meara said with a laugh. “OK, yeah, I'm not 32 and strong, but I hit it far enough.”
He proved that in the opening round, but even more, he proved that he can still putt with the best of the flatbellies, needing just 24 putts to get around the course.
For a guy who waited to win his two major championship titles until he was over 40, maybe he can still do some damage on the other side of 50.