Toledo, Ohio – Mark O’Meara ran the gauntlet as best he could – until he ran out of magic.
The 1998 Masters and British Open champion played poorly in his two starts in England leading up to this week’s U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club, but he switched equipment, got back on American soil, and found his game.
He had a chance to win his second major on the Champions Tour, beginning the final round just two strokes behind leader Olin Browne.
And at several junctures during Sunday’s final round, O’Meara managed to catch Browne, but he never could get that crucial extra stroke to get his nose in front. When he failed to take advantage of some birdie chances in the middle of the round, and then made two sloppy bogeys down the stretch, O’Meara had to settle for his second top-10 in the Senior Open.
O’Meara closed with a 1-over-par 72, the only player among the top 14 to shoot over par on a sunny and slightly breezy day at Inverness, and completed 72 holes in the 32nd U.S. Senior Open at 12-under 272, three behind the winner.
It was a disappointing finish to a fine week of golf. And it was disappointing even though he harbored few expectations after a lone practice round on Wednesday.
“You've got to understand, I didn't really play that well the last couple of weeks when I was over in Europe, and so I wasn't overconfident by any means out there,” said O’Meara, 54, of Houston, who has yet to win in 2011. “I felt pretty good on the front side. I felt pretty composed. I think it would really kind of hurt me, certainly not making the putts on 10 and 11 and then hitting a poor drive on 13.”
O’Meara pull-hooked his tee shot on the long par-4 13th hole, and then on 14 he overcorrected and pushed his tee shot to the right. “That's kind of my pattern. It's something I've got to work on, and I'm disappointed,” O’Meara said. “I certainly had a chance to win, and I didn't get it done.”
Though he bogeyed 13, O’Meara was still only one shot behind Browne, who was treading water after three days of tearing up the Donald Ross-designed course in record fashion. But at the par-4 16th, O’Meara hit a fat 3-iron approach shot well short of the green from 216 yards to suffer another bogey and give Browne sufficient breathing room.
“It was a pretty poor shot to be honest with you. A very poor shot at the wrong time, and that kind of cost me,” he said. “I needed to put more pressure and get kind of over the hump, and I didn't do that.”
Actually, early on, with birdies at the first and fourth holes, O’Meara was putting plenty of pressure on Browne. Somehow, he weathered the storm for his first senior title.
“I expected Mark to make a run,” the champion said. “He's a great player. He's got two major championships under his belt and I don't know how many other tournament wins worldwide. He's a great player, and he's a gentleman to boot.
“We had a great 36 holes. He played great yesterday, I played great yesterday. He played great on the front nine today. I didn't. I played a lot better on the back. He didn't play quite as well as he did on the front.”
Said O’Meara: “Olin didn't get off to the quickest start but he hung in there, never gave up the ship. And on the back side he hit some quality shots when he needed to. My hat’s off to him. He hung in there, had the two‑shot lead, didn't get flustered. We were tied for the lead once or twice and then he pulled away at the end.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.