54-year-old Mark O’Meara fired a six-under 66 at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday. And no, he wasn’t playing in the Senior Players Championship — he’s keeping up with the kids this week. O’Meara credits his incredible round to his fantastic putting. He only needed 24 putts. He’s currently tied for third and two shots behind first-round leader Nick Watney, who fired a blistering 64. Naturally, during O’Meara’s presser, he was asked about his good friend and former-Orlando neighbor Tiger Woods’ withdrawing after nine holes. O’Meara, who says Tiger seems “extremely happy,” was shocked when he heard the news. “I just played with him yesterday morning and he played great on the back nine,” said O’Meara. “Not great, but he was well on his way in my opinion, knowing him as well as I do and seeing the signs that I expected him — maybe not — I don’t know if he was ready to win, but I thought he would play well or decent because he’s such a great competitor.
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how bad it is. Obviously it’s pretty bad, but he needs to get that fixed, because you know, I know how much he loves the game, and I know how badly he wants to be competing.”
When O’Meara had dinner with Tiger at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse last night, he sensed his longtime pal was in good spirits. In fact, Tiger even picked up the check.
“It’s not that often he goes to the hip, so I’m saying to you, he’s doing better,” said O’Meara, laughing. “I tried to go for the check, and he’s like, ‘No, no, I’m buying.’ Okay, good.” (Tiger is notoriously frugal.)
While O’Meara and Tiger are close, even O’Meara is left in the dark when it comes to Tiger’s health.
“Sometimes, Tiger, even as well as I know him, sometimes it’s very difficult to read him,” he said. “I asked him the other day, ‘How’s the leg,’ and he says, ‘It’s fine.’ I don’t know if it’s fine or if he’s just telling me it’s fine and it’s really not that fine.”
As incredible of a talent Tiger is, O’Meara, who doesn’t see him as often anymore now that he lives in Houston, thinks Tiger still has an intense passion for competing, which means perhaps he’s hurting more than he’s letting on.
“He definitely needs to have more reps because you can stand on the range at home at Isleworth or you can come and hit balls or play practice rounds or whatever, but until you get out there in the thick of the battle, it’s very difficult to trust anything,” he said. “Even as great as he is, he can struggle with his confidence, and certainly when you start hitting some wild shots and you haven’t had the success that he’s accustomed to, that just adds to the pressure.
“If the limitations that Tiger is facing with his injuries are holding him back, then he needs to get those totally fixed and get back, and then he needs to come back and just take little steps to get back, because he knows how to win.”