But I dont believe either could have been as unexpected as Mark OMearas week in Dubai. He visited an American aircraft carrier with Tiger Woods, then teed it up against Woods, world No. 3 Ernie Els, and a host of the European Tours finest practitioners of the game. Forget that he was No. 201 in the world on Thursday. Forget that most people understood his Dubai visit was just to accompany Tiger. Forget that he was 143rd on the PGA Tour last year and had missed his last two cuts this year
OMeara has done this several times before, you know ' playing lousy for weeks, even years on end before suddenly getting serious about the game. The first was 20 years ago after he had finished 76th on the PGA Tours money list in 1983. The following year, 1984, he shot up to second.
He puttered along in the tours upper echelons for 10 years when in 1994, he slid all the way down to 86th. He then righted the ship for five years until 2000, when he went spiraling down to 112th. He was entering his early 40s, and when he didnt apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding the last four years, it was widely assumed that he was finished.
The low point, OMeara conceded, was at the 84 Lumber tournament last year. I hit the ball probably the best for two days I've hit it at any time in my career, and I shot 4 under - and I missed the cut, he said. I putted as badly as a human being could putt with no confidence. I was trying everything. I was closing my eyes. I was watching my putter go back, just trying to take your mind and the hit out of the stroke.
But when you're doing all of those things, you're fighting a losing battle.
Some speculated that he would quit to become Tigers coach. Others said he would become a TV analyst.
Unfortunately, the competitive nature one has inside themselves to get to that level, it's hard to just all of a sudden walk away, OMeara said. I felt like I could still play. What no one figured was that he could bolt into the winners circle again.
His old bread-and-butter, though, had gone AWOL the last few years. Long regarded as one of the tours most masterful putters through most of his career, he had begun missing with regularity. He clanked down to 143rd last season. He was 47 years old now, and the only question was how ' and when - the end would finally come.
The putting malaise was a serious development. It had happened in the latter years to lots of great golfers ' Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Tom Kite now it was happening to OMeara.
OMeara, though, just might prove to be the exception. In the offseason, he ran into his old instructor, Hank Haney, and Haney had some rather strong words. 'You need a new grip,' Hany said, and he wasn't talking about the way he held the driver. He meant the putter.
So OMeara relented and tried it. And so far, it has re-invented the OMeara of old.
He had gone over the cliff with the roller over the last five years, steadily going down: from 45th in 1999 to 112th on 2000, to 116th, back up to 97th, then last year falling out of sight at 140th. But with this new grip ' he calls it The Saw ' he stands 18th on the U.S. putting rankings, and thats not even counting his win at Dubai.
I would explain it, but I have to confess I havent seen the grip and I dont understand OMearas verbal description. But The Saw has had a dramatic impact on his game. And even though he has had nagging back problems the last month, OMeara looks like he can win again in his late 40s.
If you feel like you can make the putts, it just frees up the rest of your game, OMeara said.
Granted, I'm more confident now, certainly, because I'm starting to see some results. Confidence comes from results.
Last month, putting guru Scotty Cameron had a look at Marks unconventional Saw grip. He said it's the best he's seen me stroke the ball in five or six years, OMeara said proudly.
Well, maybe this is another ageless wonder story that has become so prevalent in golf the last couple of years. After all, Woods is the only player under 30 who has won this year. And OMeara beat Woods ' and Els ' in his march through the Dubai field last week.
Do you have putting woes, watching the ball avoid the cup like it has a severe case of halitosis? Better listen to Mark OMeara.
Any of you guys or gals that have a little yip in the stroke and may not want to admit this, that's cool, I'm down with that, he said.
But you might want to try this. Trust me, it works.
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