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O’Meara Pulls Out 1-Shot Win : His 10-Foot Birdie on 18th Gives Him Pebble Beach Title

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Tom Kite left the door open slightly for Mark O’Meara to win the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament Sunday--and O’Meara charged right through.

Kite, tied with O’Meara at 10-under par, finished his round with a par putt on the 18th hole at the Pebble Beach course.

So it was up to O’Meara, playing one hole behind Kite, to either win the tournament, send it into a playoff, or blow it.

O’Meara won it with style, a 10-foot, straightaway birdie putt on the final hole to take the winner’s check of $180,000. He finished at 277, 11-under par.

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Asked to describe his feelings when the putt disappeared into the cup, O’Meara said: “I almost had a heart attack. The last time I felt like that was when I caught a 10-pound, 7-ounce largemouth bass in a lake near home. When I got it in the boat I was so excited I started hyperventilating.

“It was a difficult putt because I’ve never had one like that before in all the years I’ve played here, even in amateur golf, or practice rounds.

“It was hard to read it. I played it straight and it was kind of fast and downhill. It bounced and bounced and went in.”

The tournament came down to a two-player shoot-out between Kite and O’Meara, who had the lead after the second round and shared it with Nick Price going into the final round.

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Kite sank a birdie putt on the 13th hole to tie O’Meara at 9-under par and then went ahead by 1 stroke with another birdie at the 14th.

However, O’Meara, who lives in Escondido, matched Kite’s putt with a birdie of his own at the 14th hole.

Then, the leaders parred the next three holes, setting up the climactic finish.

Kite’s approach shot on the par-5, 548-yard 18th hole went 15 feet above the hole. His birdie try went slightly to the right of the cup and he got his tap-in for a par.

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O’Meara said that from his vantage point on the fairway he couldn’t see Kite’s putt.

“But from the reaction of the crowd, I knew he had missed it,” O’Meara said.

So O’Meara then used his sand wedge for his third shot on the 18th, a distance he said of 93 yards to the hole.

His shot stayed to the right of the hole, and he said he then stroked his putt and hoped for the best.

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Even though O’Meara, 32, won here in 1985, the last year he had any victories on the PGA Tour, he wasn’t looking forward to a playoff against Kite, 39, a 17-year veteran of the Tour, who had won here in 1983.

“Tom might have had more experience on his side,” said O’Meara, referring to the prospect of a playoff.

For the record, O’Meara is 0-2 in playoffs, and Kite is 3-3.

It seems that birthdays have been special occasions here. Price got a share of the lead Saturday on his 32nd birthday and O’Meara was especially pleased that he won Sunday on his father’s 58th birthday.

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Kite, who lost here in a playoff against Curtis Strange in the Nabisco Championship last November, was obviously disappointed.

“It’s not much fun,” he said. “I had my chances and I played a solid round. But I 3-putted the seventh and eighth holes and missed the green on the ninth for another bogey. I lost it in the middle of the round.”

Kite was 2 strokes behind O’Meara and Price at the start of the final round and shot a 69 Sunday despite his 3 bogeys (along with 3 birdies) on the front 9.

O’Meara had a 70, with 2 bogeys and 4 birdies, the last, of course, being the most dramatic.

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Jim Carter, Sandy Lyle and Price, who had a final-round 73, finished behind the leaders at 280, 8-under par.

O’Meara, though at even par heading into the final 9 holes, conferred with his caddy, Greg Rita, on strategy.

“He said, ‘Let’s have a goal, go for 2 under on the backside. Let’s play our game and try not to worry what’s going on with the rest of the field.’

“The turnaround for me was my birdie on 14. I knew he had birdied the 13th and, when he birdied the 14th, I realized that he had gone to 10 under and I knew I was 9 under.

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“So I hit a pitching wedge to within 2 feet of the hole at 14 to stay tied. Fortunately, it came down to the last hole with a chance to win, and I took advantage of it.”

Though it was windy and cold here Saturday, the weather couldn’t have been better Sunday with minimal wind, a clear sky and temperatures in the high 60s.

That was made to order for O’Meara, who said he plays better in warmer weather.

“As a child, I had frostbite in both of my hands. So when it gets cold out there, I kind of lose my feel a little bit,” O’Meara said. “Obviously, I was a little nervous. Who wouldn’t be. But I tried to remain calm.”

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O’Meara earned $438,311 on the tour last year and was 22nd on the prize money list. He has also been a money winner in tournaments in foreign countries.

O’Meara is an easygoing sort, but he seemed annoyed that the group ahead of him was playing so slowly.

“It took us 3 hours to play the front side,” he said. “The group ahead of us should have made a better effort to speed up. But I wasn’t going to let it aggravate me.”

O’Meara said he hadn’t dwelled on the fact that he hadn’t won on the Tour since 1985. He did, however, win the Australian Masters in 1986 and the Lawrence Batley Invitational in England in 1987.

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“I’ve just worked hard to be more relaxed,” he said. “You’re going to have some bad shots. You can’t expect perfection on every shot.”

O’Meara learned the game when his family moved to Mission Viejo when he was 13. He used to slip onto a nearby course to play.

He played well enough at Mission Viejo High School to earn a golf scholarship to Cal State Long Beach. Then he won the U.S. Amateur title in 1979 and qualified for the tour 2 years later.

Kite said he was cruising the first 6 holes with 3 birdies before he bogeyed the last 3 holes on the front 9.

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“Finishing second the second time around is much tougher,” said Kite, referring to his playoff loss here to Strange. “I’ll be disappointed and a little chagrined for the rest of the night. But next week is the L.A. Open, and I’ll be down there trying to win and I guarantee you that somehow I’ll take this tournament as a good blessing.

“When you shoot 10-under par on these golf courses, you have nothing to be ashamed of. But it hurts when you come that close in a tournament you really felt you should have won.”

Golf Notes

Steve Jones and Jim Rheim won the pro-amateur division of the Pebble Beach tournament. They had a net 255, 1-stroke ahead of Dan Pohl and Dan Marino, the Miami Dolphins’ quarterback. Jones, the defending champion of the tournament, finished at 281, 7-under par. He had a 70 on his final round. . . . Dave Stockton, with a 69 Sunday, finished at 282, 6-under par.

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