Mark O'Meara wins Senior Players Championship for his first major title on Champions Tour

Mark O'Meara reacts after sinking the final putt on the playoff hole, giving him the victory in the Senior Players Championship in Potomac. (Photo by Preston Keres/For The Washington Post)
Mark O'Meara reacts after sinking the final putt on the playoff hole, giving him the victory in the Senior Players Championship in Potomac. (Photo by Preston Keres/For The Washington Post)
By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2010; 11:57 PM

Turmoil had swirled through Mark O'Meara's life the past couple years. A divorce, then a marriage. The death of his father in July. The off-the-course issues were taking their toll on the 53-year-old's golf game.

It all came to a head on Sept. 26, when he withdrew from the SAS Championship nine holes into the second round.

"My heart wasn't into it," O'Meara said. "I was fighting something I wasn't going to win, so I just walked away. I didn't feel good about walking away, because that's not the kind of person I am, but yet I didn't want to waste my time and take any more beating that I was."

O'Meara decided he needed a break to gain some perspective. So the avid fisherman took his new wife on a steelhead fishing trip on the Deschutes River in Oregon. He didn't even touch a club for several days.

The time away turned out to be exactly what he needed. After finishing second nine times on the Champions Tour, O'Meara finally got the victory he had so long been denied. He made par on the first playoff hole to hold off Michael Allen and win the Senior Players Championship at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm on Sunday. Though the $405,000 check was nice, the first-place finish in one of the major championships was what really mattered to O'Meara.

"I just feel very fortunate," O'Meara said. "Because a week and a half ago I was as far as you could come from thinking you're going to win a tournament. . . . It's a thrill. It's certainly been a long time coming."

O'Meara, the only player to shoot under par each of the four days, shot a 68 in the final round to finish at 7-under-par 273. Allen carded a 66, also for a 273. Loren Roberts had a 68 to come in two strokes back at 275.

Though O'Meara had won 16 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1998 Masters and '98 British Open, victories on the 50-and-older tour had proved elusive. And Sunday it appeared it might elude him again.

Many of O'Meara's second-place finishes were because another player had caught fire and passed him rather than his poor play. That almost was the case again on Sunday. Allen started making birdies on the back nine, and suddenly the three-shot lead O'Meara held after No. 13 disappeared.

Allen's charge began on No. 14. He flew his second shot past the green, then hit a rescue club to two feet and made the birdie putt. He missed a six-foot birdie putt on the next hole, but hit nice iron shots into Nos. 16 and 17 greens for eight- and 10-foot birdie putts respectively.

Meanwhile, nerves nearly got the best of O'Meara. He had to scramble to make bogey on No. 16 after sending his drive into the left rough. After hitting 31 of 42 fairways his first three rounds, O'Meara hit only 8 of 14 on Sunday.

"I was nervous, no question about it," O'Meara said. "I don't look so nervous, but I was churning."

Allen had a chance to take the lead on No. 18 but his birdie putt broke to the left more than he expected. O'Meara also could have closed out the tournament on 18, but he left his birdie putt a turn-and-a-half short.

O'Meara and Allen played No. 18 again in the playoff. O'Meara landed his tee shot in the fairway, while Allen sent his drive into the right rough. Although Allen did the best he could with the nasty lie he had, his second shot came up short of the green. He needed to make a 15-footer but sent his putt two feet past the cup.

"I had a great day playing today," Allen said. "I played well nearly most of the day. And at the end I guess I had a lot of second-place finishes that felt pretty darn good and this one doesn't feel quite as good."

O'Meara made the four-foot putt for his first individual tournament win since the 2004 Dubai Desert Classic. During an emotional trophy presentation, he remembered his father.

"I was as close as any son could be to his father," O'Meara said. "And I love my dad. I miss him. . . . It's tough. I know this would have been special victory for my dad, too."

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