LUTZ — Despite all of the crowds following Tiger Woods at last week's Masters, Mark O'Meara managed to get a one-on-one with his longtime friend. On a practice putting green at Augusta National, Woods gave O'Meara a putting tip.
It didn't help O'Meara last week as he missed the cut at the tournament he won in 1998. But it certainly clicked on Friday's second nine at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am.
O'Meara birdied six of nine holes on TPC Tampa Bay's front nine (his second nine) and shot 6-under 65 to take a one-shot lead over defending champion Nick Price and Mike Reid after the opening round.
Six golfers are just two shots back, including two-time tournament champion Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer and Champions Tour rookie Tommy Armour III. Fred Couples, who has won the past three Champions Tour events, is six shots back after an opening-round 71.
"I got a putting lesson from Tiger last week at Augusta," said O'Meara, who averaged 1.3 putts per green Friday. "He had his camera phone out there. He just told me to swing a little bit more off to the right and feel the toe release instead of coming over it. I agree with him. That's what I do."
O'Meara, 53, is one of the most accomplished PGA Tour players but has yet to record a win on the Champions Tour since he became eligible in 2007. He has won 16 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1998 British Open. But on the senior circuit, he has eight second-place finishes.
If he is going to break through, O'Meara must carry the momentum from his final nine holes. His day started rather pedestrian. He birdied two of his first four holes, but bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes brought him back to even at the turn. Then he caught fire. He birdied the second and third hole and rattled off three straight birdies at Nos. 5 through 7. He then birdied the ninth hole for a front nine score of 29.
"I hit some better drives and kept the ball in play on that nine," O'Meara said. "And I made a lot of nice putts. No matter who you are, whether you're on the regular tour or this tour, you've got to putt well."
Like O'Meara, Reid started his day on the wrong foot. He had double bogey on the first hole but played the next 17 holes in 7 under, which included an eagle on the par-5 12th hole.
"I just kept reminding myself for the next 10 minutes that that (first) hole was just 1/54th of my score," Reid said. "I just said it's a matter of being patient. With a little luck, maybe some of those shots will come back."
Price had the kind of opening round that eventually earned him a championship last year. He carded six birdies and one bogey for a solid 66. And lurking two shots back is 2007-08 winner Watson. After double bogey on the par-4 fourth hole, Watson recovered on a course he knows very well.
"This course has eaten my lunch before," Watson said. "I have a great respect for this golf course. It can come up and bite you at any time. Maybe that's one of the reasons I play well, because I play it a little bit safer than I would another course."
For O'Meara, this is his fourth Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am. His best finish was a tie for eighth last year. He tied his lowest round of the year Friday, but he has been unable to string together three straight rounds in the 60s in four previous Champions Tour events.
His past clearly suggests the talent is there. Lately, O'Meara has struggled with confidence.
"I don't necessarily expect to win, but I know I should be able to play better than I've played," O'Meara said. "That's frustrating. So I went home to Houston and I practiced (after the Masters). I hit some shots on Monday as good as I can hit them. So why don't I do that out there? That's the frustrating part."