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Augusta National Golf Club
Augusta, Georgia
9th - 12th April

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O'Meara wins Masters for his first major title

Augusta, Georgia, 12th April 1998 - Mark O'Meara ended an 18-year wait for his first major title by sinking a 25ft birdie putt to end another gripping Masters at Augusta.

The 41-year-old had trailed David Duval by three shots playing the 15th but he birdied that and then, after Duval had three-putted the 16th, he pitched to five feet on the 17th and then rolled in his dramatic closing effort.

O'Meara, winner of over $8 million and close on three previous occasions to winning a major, raised both arms to the skies to celebrate the greatest day of his golfing life.

He shot a closing round of 67 for a 9-under par total of 279

Long-time leader Fred Couples also trailed Duval by three entering the final stretch but pulled level with a superb iron shot that finished two feet from the hole for an eagle on the 15th.

The 1992 champion missed an eight foot chance to go ahead on the 17th and at the last went from bunker to bunker.

By splashing out to four feet, 38-year-old Couples gave himself the chance of a play-off but then stood and watched as O'Meara snuffed out that chance in dramatic fashion.

Couples made his putt for a share of second place with Duval but he was to be bitterly disappointed. He had run up a double bogey seven on the long 13th - the hole he eagled in the third round - by hitting his second into Rae's Creek, having come to it still holding his two-shot overnight lead.

A remarkable final day to a remarkable week even included a charge from 58-year-old six-time winner Jack Nicklaus but it could not go on long enough and in the end he had to be content with a share of sixth place with little-known American David Toms, who had equalled Masters history by coming home in 29 with six birdies in a row from the 12th and shooting a 64.

Tiger Woods, who never hit the heights of last year - when he won by a record 12-shot margin and with a record 18 under par total - finished joint eighth along with Open champion Justin Leonard and British pair Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke, the Ulsterman having a superb weekend after surviving the halfway cut with just one stroke to spare.

He followed a Saturday 67 with a 69 to guarantee himself a return trip next year, while Montgomerie's 70 gave him his best finish in seven Masters - his previous highest was 17th

O'Meara was playing in his 57th major and started the final day two behind Couples.

The deficit became one when Couples bogeyed the first and after both had birdied the second, O'Meara drew alongside his rival with a three on the 360 yard third.

Both birdied the short fourth, O'Meara from 40ft and Couples from 18, but when Couples birdied the seventh and eighth and O'Meara hooked into trees on the ninth, a gap appeared to be developing.

But O'Meara saved his par there and Couples bogeyed by coming up short with his approach, so they headed for home with one shot between the two.

O'Meara three-putted the 10th and at that moment eyes turned instead to Duval, who had made four birdies in five holes to move alongside Couples.

The 27-year-old Duval suddenly found himself two in front when Couples had his seven and that became three when he two-putted the 15th for birdie, but there were to be more twists in the tale, starting with his three-putt bogey on the next.

O'Meara seized the opportunity wonderfully well and after claiming victory was helped into a green jacket by close friend Woods.

He had said before the final round: "If someone wants to classify me as a failure for never winning a major, that's their right. But in my opinion I have achieved more than I ever dreamt I could have in a game of golf.

"I washed clubs at the country club as a kid. Not because I was poor - I wasn't - but I was just hoping to one day play on tour and one day win one tournament.

"I'm standing up here and I've won 14 events and I am fifth on the all-time money list. I've never won a major but would I trade that away for all I've done? No.

"What would it mean to win one? It would mean I wouldn't have to be asked that question any more. It would kind of fulfil a dream come true."

The course came alive as Nicklaus, 12 years on from becoming the oldest ever winner, birdied four of the first seven holes to move within two of Couples.

Nicklaus, honoured on the eve of the tournament for the part he has played in Masters history knew that what he was attempting to do - win again on his 40th appearance - almost defied belief.

"If I win I'll quit," he said. "I promise that I'll never be able to play another competitive round again because nothing will top that."

After his closing 68 the Golden Bear said: "This could well be my last competitive Masters but if it is I've had a pretty good one.

"I'm thrilled but disappointed at the same time. I finished four behind and when I think about all the putts I gave away, I've got to be disappointed.

"I felt the course was going to be easy today and there would be some good scores, so I thought I would shoot one too."

But he must have sensed his chance of victory had gone when he three-putted the 12th, although when he birdied the next he said he still believed that a eagle on the 15th and two more birdies might have done it. O'Meara proved him wrong on that.

Clarke moved into fifth when he followed an outward 33 with another birdie on the 11th but he also bogeyed the 12th by three-putting and afterwards last year's Open runner-up said: "I lost concentration there and that stopped my momentum but I've had a great time here.

"I've had a fantastic week and to be eight under over the weekend can't be bad."

Montgomerie, who had the awkward task of being in the group behind Nicklaus, said: "It was very difficult out there. They seemed to be applauding him just for breathing at times but he is a legend and what he did this week was superb.

"I am encouraged by my performance. I said a couple of months ago that I wasn't sure if I could win here - now I think I can."

Woods, who had shared the lead on the second day but then always seemed to be battling with his game, was in the group ahead of Nicklaus and he said: "We had to keep backing off putts or shots because of the roars.

"I felt kind of bad for Ernie Els playing with Jack - we passed him at one point and he said he wanted some earplugs.

"I got every ounce out of myself I could here. I squeezed the towel dry. I just hung in there with my short game and the way I was hitting it, it was a mini-miracle that I even had a chance with a round to play. I would have been right in there if I had made the start that Jack did today."

Ian Woosnam, one over at the start of the day, finished with two birdies for a 70 and one under aggregate - he was 16th - but Lee Westwood, winner last week in New Orleans, finished an unhappy week with a 78 for 44th place on 12 over.

He had hoped to climb into the top 24 as he did on his debut last year to make sure of another chance in 12 months but he will now have to find a different route back.

 


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