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O’Meara Fits the Bill As Champion

October 22, 1998

It wasn’t on the same scale of winning the Masters or the British Open, but Mark O’Meara won’t treat his victory in the World Match Play Championship in England lightly.

In three 36-hole matches, O’Meara beat the No. 1 player on Europe’s money list, the PGA champion and the top-ranked player in the world.

``I would rank it pretty high, not with a major championship, but it’s up there with the quality of players,″ he said Tuesday.

Because of his ranking, O’Meara only had to play three matches. He beat Colin Montgomerie 5 and 4, then turned in perhaps the most impressive round of the year with an 11 and 10 win over Vijay Singh.

In the final match against Tiger Woods, he holed a putt from just on the fringe for a 1-up victory.

``To play against the No. 1 player in the world and beat him in such a dramatic match made it special,″ O’Meara said.

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EL NINO FORECAST: How about El Tigre vs. El Nino in the Ryder Cup next year?

Seve Ballesteros says he wouldn’t be surprised if Sergio Garcia, the 18-year-old Spanish amateur known as ``El Nino,″ winds up on Europe’s team next year. Garcia, who won the British Amateur and beat Matt Kuchar in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur, plans to turn pro after the Masters, leaving him only 20 events to earn enough points.

``There is no question I think Sergio could make the Ryder Cup team next year,″ Ballesteros said. ``It will be difficult because he misses half of the season before he turns professional, but he is such a great prospect. Even if he does not collect enough points, (captain) Mark James might pick him.″

Even if Garcia doesn’t make the European team, he may get a chance to go toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods at Augusta.

Mark O’Meara said he’s trying to arrange a Tuesday practice round that would pit him and Woods against Garcia and U.S. Amateur champion Hank Kuehne.

``Two amateurs can play with an old pro and a young pro and see if they can give us a whipping,″ O’Meara said.

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NEW NAME, SAME COURSE? The PGA Tour is worried that the TPC at Deere Run might not be ready in time for the inaugural John Deere Classic, scheduled for the week after the British Open.

Heavy spring rains have delayed construction on the $10 million course, and tournament director Kym Hougham said the fairways don’t appear to be up to PGA standards. Officials will decide at the end of the month whether it will be suitable to play.

``What the workers are trying to do now is get in all of the sod and seeding before the tour people arrive. Right now we are looking at places where our suites will be and where we will move crowds, and we’re looking at mud,″ Hougham said.

The $2 million John Deere Classic, which replaced the Quad-City Classic on the schedule, might have to return to the old Quad-City site _ Oakwood Country Club in Coal Valley, Ill. _ if the TPC at Deere Run is not ready.

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CHANGES AT THE TOP: Ely Callaway is approaching 80 and showing no signs of slowing down.

After a year marked by tussles with Spalding (over the marketing of its System C golf ball), Orlimar (over its ads that ``oversized is overrated″) and Taylor Made (over its backing of the USGA in the spring-like effect squabble), the founder and chairman of Callaway Golf Co. has reassumed the roles of president and chief executive officer.

He’ll replace Donald Dye, who agreed to step aside.

``With lots of confidence, I am looking forward to meeting the challenges that we face as a company,″ Callaway said.

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FIT FOR A PING: The newest piece of technology from PING putters is a gadget that looks like it belongs in wood shop.

The putter fitting system from Karsten Manufacturing is a small, level-type gauge that attaches to a putter and measures the lie and loft of a putter while a player is standing over his ball. Karsten is distributing the devices to 1,000 of its top accounts around the country.

``There’s no question that the average golfer is going to make more putts with a properly fitted putter,″ said John Solheim, president of Karsten.

Once the specifications are measured, the putter can be shipped to Karsten’s headquarters and returned in one week.

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VALHALLA CHANGES: The PGA of America plans a few changes at Valhalla Golf Club for the 2000 PGA Championship with hopes it will play a little more difficult than in 1996, when the average score of 72.67 was the second-lowest in its history of stroke play.

For starters, the 515-yard second hole will have a new tee box some 40 yards back. CEO Jim Awtrey said too many players were able to hit the landing area with a fairway wood.

``This will put a driver in their hands,″ he said.

Other fairways will be more narrow, and a bunker will be added on the left side of the par-4 ninth hole. Jack Nicklaus, who designed Valhalla, put a bunker on the right side that should have come into play off the tee, but Awtrey said the ``modern-day″ play blew over that bunker by 25 yards.

``We made no changes to the golf course leading up to the 1996 PGA because we felt it was a good challenge,″ Awtrey said. ``We’ve had a chance to watch the players and have made a few subtle changes.″

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DIVOTS: After seven weeks of radiation treatment related to his recovery from prostate cancer, Arnold Palmer is set to return to the Senior Tour at the Pacific Bell Classic in Los Angeles next week. ``He didn’t have any hesitation about playing,″ spokesman Doc Giffin said. ``In fact, he played with his son-in-law on Sunday and shot 68.″ Palmer will wait until after Los Angeles to decide whether to play in the Shark Shootout. ...The Greater Vancouver Open in British Columbia will be called the Air Canada Championship next year because the airline has gone from a presenting sponsor to the title sponsor. The other change: The purse will increase from $2 million to $2.5 million. ... Lee Trevino will go up against Gary Player at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., in the final Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf segment of the year. Trevino replaces Jack Nicklaus, who is taking the rest of the year off to work on his hip. ... Hale Irwin, Gil Morgan and Larry Nelson will lead the Senior Tour in the Wendy’s Three-Tour Challenge in December. The LPGA and PGA Tour teams will be determined later. ...For those golf courses interested in having a Ryder Cup, the next open slot is the year 2015. Davis Love III will be eligible for the Senior Tour by then.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Of the 19 players who have won the World Match Play Championship since it began in 1964, all but two have won a major championship.

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FINAL WORD: ``What he’s done this year, I think he’s made it easier to tell us apart.″ _ Mark McCumber, who used to be mistaken for Mark O’Meara.

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