Long-time friends and competitors Olin Browne and Mark O’Meara were paired in the last group on July 30. They did not fail to impress. O’Meara had played superb golf over the first two days at Inverness shooting a 66-68 eight-under par but was still one shot behind Browne heading into the third round. Browne carded a phenomenal seven-under par 64 in the first round on July 28 and followed that up with a solid two-under 69 for a 36-hole score of nine-under par.
Browne, a relative late starter, didn’t begin playing golf until he was 19 and in college at that great golfing powerhouse, Occidental. He parlayed that, however, into a 25-year career on the PGA Tour, had three wins and joined the Champions Tour in 2009. He is known for his superb ball striking ability and has always been one of the most accurate with his driver, although not long. His wins came at Hartford, Colonial and TPC Boston, all courses that demand accuracy off the tee and excellent iron play into the greens. His best finish in the majors was a tie for fifth at the 1997 U. S. Open held at Congressional Country Club, another tight demanding golf course similar to Inverness.
In contrast, O’Meara had a Hall of Fame golf career with 16 PGA Tour wins, 34 professional wins overall and two major victories. In 1998, he had one of the best years of any golfer ever until his friend and mentee, Tiger Woods, came along and won the “Tiger Slam” in 2000-2001. In 1998, O’Meara won The Masters, tied for third in the U.S. Open, won the British Open, tied for fourth in the PGA Championship and was named PGA Tour Player of the Year. He already has the 2010 Senior PGA Championship Trophy sitting at home on his mantle. He has some experience in these types of situations.
None of that mattered on July 30 at Inverness, however. Browne and O’Meara put on a birdie barrage for the appreciative fans. Olin made the turn at one-under par for the day but kicked into high gear and blistered Inverness’ tough back nine for a five-under par 29. That’s right, he shot a 29 on a USGA Major Championship golf course. He played the difficult stretch of holes 13-16 at one-under par and matched O’Meara birdie for birdie on 17 and 18. Pretty heady stuff for a guy not used to winning major championships.
O’Meara, no shrinking violet, made some fireworks of his own. At the par-5 fourth hole, he struck a perfect three iron to the green, stroked the eagle putt slightly too firm and had to settle for his first birdie of the day. He made the turn at two-under par, birdied the par-3 15th hole and finished with birdies on 17 and 18 for five-under par and still remained two shots behind Browne.
It was great fun to watch, golf at its absolute best. Two friends, yet competitors, dueling in the sun, guns blazing, breaking USGA records by the handful. If Browne can hold it together for one more round, it could be another historic day at Inverness, a place that has seen its share of history over the years.