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Old Buddies

After 30 years, FOT (Friends of Tiger) John Cook and Mark O'Meara were in a time warp as they returned to the scene of their first duel

A week afterfinishing a disappointing eighth at the Players Championship, Tiger Woods wasmiked up for a clinic at Tiger Jam XII, his annual rock and roll and golffund-raiser in Las Vegas. Since he hates to work alone, Woods had brought anaccomplice, Tour pro John Cook. ¬∂ "The first thing he says is, 'Cookie,you're going to hit all the shots today,'" says Cook. "I tell him,'Tiger, you're the one who needs the lesson.' The crowd loved it, and he lovedit." ¬∂ The next morning at the Tiger Jam pro-am, Cook teed it up in a groupthat included fellow pro and FOT (Friend of Tiger) Mark O'Meara—who had missedthe previous day's clinic to attend the graduation from Southern Cal of his22-year-old daughter, Michelle—plus Adrian Young, the drummer for the rock bandNo Doubt. "Adrian had a Mohawk going," says O'Meara, flashing histrademark grin. "It was crazy."

So what were twogolfers in their 50s doing hanging around at Tiger Jam? Cook and O'Meara aretwo of Woods's closest friends and confidantes, even though they're nearly twodecades older than Tiger. Nothing strange there. An older player taking ayounger pro under his wing is one of golf's enduring traditions. For example, ayoung O'Meara was mentored by Ben Hogan, while Cook was guided by Byron Nelsonand Ken Venturi.

But Cook andO'Meara were linked long before they tutored Tiger. Last week they were atCanterbury Golf Club in suburban Cleveland, the place where their competitiverelationship first took root. It was at Canterbury in 1979 that O'Meara upsetdefending champion Cook in one of the most one-sided (8 and 7) U.S. Amateurfinals. Thirty years later they returned for the Senior PGA Championship, thesenior circuit's oldest (70 years) and most prestigious major championship,and, naturally, were paired for the first two rounds. "It's great to beback where I got my clock cleaned," said the 51-year-old Cook, tonguefirmly in cheek.

Neither playerexperienced flashbacks. "I'm 52. It's getting hard to rememberanything," O'Meara said, but he did recall one vivid moment from thatlong-ago match. In '79, when he had a chance to go 9 up with nine holes toplay, "my first thought was, If I lose this thing now, it will be thebiggest [collapse] in the history of the world."

On May 20 O'Mearaand his 19-year-old son, Shaun (who plays on the UC Irvine team), attended Game1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers' playoff series against O'Meara's beloved OrlandoMagic, scoring seats right behind the Cavs' bench. Mark was caught on TV byTiger, who fired off a text message.

"Tiger waslike, Hey man, aren't you supposed to be getting your rest?" O'Meara says."I said, Listen, I'm here to support my team, and I'm sitting a foot fromLeBron James, who told me to tell you to get your act in gear. Tiger texted meback, saying, Tell LeBron I have nine MVPs and 14 championships. Then he textedme again. And I'm not done. It was pretty funny."

History doesn'tusually come with storybook endings, and for these rivals last weekend's finishwas no exception. O'Meara and Cook went into Sunday's final round on the fringeof contention, but neither became a factor. O'Meara finished 14th, with athree-over 283, nine shots behind winner Michael Allen (page G6). Cook, a shotbehind O'Meara in 17th place, was one of many players baffled by Canterbury'swicked greens.

The one-strokedifference symbolized how slightly Cook's and O'Meara's lives and careers havediverged. On the course O'Meara, always the better putter, made more big onesand validated his résumé by winning a Masters and a British Open in 1998, atage 41. Cook, the better ball-striker, was two mulligans away from winning the'92 British Open and PGA Championship. (He missed a two-footer on the 71st holeat Muirfield and hit a a poor approach on the 72nd hole at Bellerive.)

Off the course,they have been in lockstep. Both players are Californians who migrated to thetax haven of Florida. Cook says he saved enough on taxes to put two kidsthrough college, but, says O'Meara, "I saved more because I moved theresooner. I was the one who persuaded John to get out of California." Theyboth ended up in the exclusive Isleworth subdivision, Tiger's neighborhood,near Orlando.

O'Meara still ownshis giant Mark O'Mansion at Isleworth but splits time between his Park City,Utah, summer home and a house near the Rice campus in Houston, which he shareswith the new love in his life, Meredith Berkman, a pharmaceutical rep. Theyplan to marry on June 27. O'Meara's 29-year marriage to his first wife, Alicia,fell apart 18 months ago. Until he met Berkman last fall, O'Meara wasdisconsolate, and it showed in his play.

Cook was there forhis friend. "He didn't understand it," Cook says. "Gosh, how manytimes did we have the same conversation from January through September lastyear, usually on the road at dinner?"

O'Meara was alsothere for Cook in '92 after that British Open cruelly slipped away. They shareda house that week, and when Cook returned after the final round, O'Meara waswaiting with kind words and Old Jock beer. "It looked like motor oil,"O'Meara says.

Now, 17 yearslater, the two have seen their roles somewhat reversed on the Champions tour.O'Meara has yet to win there, while Cook has done so twice. "I lovecompeting out here," Cook says. "I've been competing since I was 10. Iwouldn't know what else to do. When I'm 75 I'll probably be playingshuffleboard and some guy will say, I've got the winner, and it'll probably beMark. And you know—we'll still try to beat each other."

Move Over, Arnie

After 13 years on Tour and 15 trips to Q school,Michael Allen won the Senior PGA and put his name alongside some of the game'sgreats

Last week was a good one for Michael Allen, but itwasn't perfect. Allen and his wife, Cynthia, walked out of the ClevelandCavaliers' playoff game on Friday night with one second left, figuring theOrlando Magic had won. "It was one second—what could possibly happen?"Allen says, laughing. "We were outside when we heard the roar. It was likean explosion."

That was the sound of LeBron James hitting abuzzer-beater from 23 feet to give the Cavs an unlikely 96--95 victory. Allenearned a roar on a much smaller scale on Sunday, although in some ways histwo-shot victory over Larry Mize in the 70th Senior PGA Championship atCanterbury was equally startling. Allen, a journeyman who has had to go throughPGA Tour qualifying school 15 times and hasn't won a tournament in 271 Tourstarts, turned 50 in January. He won a Nationwide tour event in 1998, but hislast—and only—major league victory came at the European tour's 1989 ScottishOpen.

Allen played in the Senior PGA only by virtue of aspecial invitation offered by the PGA of America. Because he was 106th on thebig Tour's money list, he is still fully exempt there, and despite this win hehas no plans to switch to the Champions tour. "Now I want to be the firstguy to win a senior tournament before he wins a PGA Tour event," Allensays.

A resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., Allen actually quitplaying tournament golf for a few years in the mid-1990s and worked at severaljobs, including as an assistant pro at Winged Foot, where he remembers havingto wash and scrub the range mats; as a swing coach; and as a housingcontractor. After he realized "how hard it is to make a hundred thousanddollars a year in the real world," he says he decided to stick with tourgolf.

That decision paid off at Canterbury, where he won$360,000. Despite the prospect of future victories, Allen says he isn'tinterested in joining the seniors because he feels he still has something toprove on the PGA Tour. At the Senior PGA, Allen emphatically proved he was theclass of the field. His last three rounds, 66-67-67, were six shots better thanthose of anyone else. As for validation, now he has his name on the Alfred S.Bourne Trophy with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson andArnold Palmer. Allen and Palmer are the only players to win this event in theirChampions tour debuts. "Before this, the only other thing Arnold Palmer andI had in common was probably drinking wine or something," Allen says.

Allen and Palmer in the same sentence? On secondthought, Allen's week was perfect after all.

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THREE PHOTOS

Photographs by DARREN CARROLL

FRIENDLY RIVALS O'Meara (far right) came in 14th and Cook 17th at the Senior PGA, which was won by Allen (opposite) in his Champions tour debut.

PHOTO

Photograph by DARREN CARROLL

CAREER REVERSAL Allen hopes to become the initial player to win first as a senior and then on the PGA Tour.