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O'Meara drives to top

There is no Grand Slam on his resume, but Mark O'Meara has the "Auto Slam" _ victories in the Honda Classic, Buick Invitational, Mercedes Championships, Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic and the Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Classic.

Perhaps those titles are not as prestigious as those of the major variety, but O'Meara, 40, would not trade in any of them.

After winning back-to-back events at Pebble Beach and the Buick Invitational earlier this year, O'Meara has 14 PGA Tour victories in his career _ more than any other active player who has not won a major championship.

For that reason, respect has come slowly, despite leading the money list with $748,868 heading into the Bay Hill Invitational, which begins today.

"Well, my banker has been pretty happy about it," said O'Meara, who lives at Isleworth, near Bay Hill. "My wife has been very happy. This is my 17th year on the tour and I've never been one to search that out, the publicity and all that comes with it.

"I've won 14 events, fourth on the all-time money list, and yet people don't always recognize me. I get my privacy and that's huge."

Indeed, unlike his friend and neighbor, Tiger Woods, O'Meara can go most places unnoticed. And even when he is recognized, sometimes people have a tough time figuring out exactly who O'Meara is.

O'Meara went skiing recently when someone approached him saying, "You're a golfer, right?" The man knew his first name was Mark, but couldn't quite come up with the last name. Even after O'Meara tried to help him out, the man finally blurted it out. "Mark McCumber, right?"

Not exactly a lot of respect for a man who had just won back-to-back events and stood atop the money list. But O'Meara gets a kick out of that story, just as he does about all the fuss surrounding Woods, who is playing this week at Bay Hill and managed to steal a good bit of attention this year.

It only served to motivate O'Meara.

"I love competition," he said. "I love feeling that little bit of tingling going on inside. When you have a guy like Tiger Woods coming on and the yelling, it's the best.

"He keeps telling me that he's going to drill me," said O'Meara, who is paired with Woods the first two days. "So I told him, "You know what? You hit it way out there, you're straight, you're long, and I may slap it over here and slap it over there. But some way, somehow, I'm going to clip you or I'm going to beat you. Just know that."'

Ironically, that situation played out at Pebble Beach. O'Meara took the lead during the final round with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. Woods, playing ahead of O'Meara, was putting on a charge.

Woods reached the par-5 18th hole in two shots, unloading a cannon 3-wood second shot. His two-putt birdie put him within one of the lead. But O'Meara responded with a par for the win.

"It was a great finish for me," O'Meara said. "It was a perfect sense of timing. I couldn't ask for a better scenario. Playing a young, competitive kid that drilled pretty much everybody coming down the stretch like that.

"The key was I expected him to do the things that he did. When he did that, it really didn't faze me that much. To beat him, to hold him off, was very good for me."

What also pleased O'Meara is that he won those tournaments not playing his best golf.

"There are a lot of aspects that go into playing good golf," O'Meara said. "Course management and how you handle yourself mentally and how well you putt or chip or you manage yourself around the golf course that itself can be a huge aspect of the game and playing well."

About the only thing missing from O'Meara's resume is a professional major championship to go with his 1979 U.S. Amateur title. O'Meara has not fared well in the Grand Slam events, even missing the cut in six consecutive U.S. Opens from 1989 to 1994.

"Has that been a void in my career? Yes," O'Meara said. "Would I like to win a major championship? Very much so. But I would not trade all my experiences in golf to win one major."

There are plenty of good times to savor.

O'Meara has won more than $8-million in his career. Other than the major championship hardware, he has just about everything a person could want.

Last summer, he bought a $72,000 Porsche Carrera after deciding that his dream car _ a 400-horsepower turbo version of the same model that costs $115,000 _ was too expensive.

But when O'Meara turned 40 in January, there was a knock on his hotel room door. He was handed a poster and it was a picture of the turbo. At the bottom it read, "Kills bugs fast."

O'Meara's wife, Alicia, had bought him the car for his birthday.

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