Solid friendship at core of Woods-O'Meara relationship

Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara are golf's version of "The Odd Couple," two men who seemingly have little in common, but have still managed to forge a unique and incredibly close relationship.

O'Meara is 44, with a wife and two kids. Woods is 25, single and hangs out with Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. When O'Meara turned pro in 1980, Woods was 5.

In his 21 years on tour, O'Meara has won two major titles, both coming when he was 41. Woods won four straight from mid-2000 to early 2001.

But from nearly the first day that Woods appeared on the PGA Tour, O'Meara and Woods were fast friends. The veteran took the young golf protege under his wing and showed him the ropes.

When Woods bought his first house, he purchased it in the same complex in Florida where O'Meara lives.

Now when they are both at home, they spend a lot of time together, playing golf, going fishing and just palling around.

They also enjoy needling each other. At a recent tournament, the large television screen was showing highlights of O'Meara from a few years ago when O'Meara had a lot more hair on his head.

Practicing on the driving range, Woods couldn't resist yelling over to O'Meara to tease him about his current "hairless look."

"Mark is one of my best friends," Woods said.

When he's asked about Woods, O'Meara speaks more like a proud father than he does a fellow member of the PGA Tour.

"It's been nice over the last few years to be part of the PGA Tour and see what has happened, to see what my friend has accomplished and how he has handled himself," O'Meara said. "It's pretty impressive. He's 25 going on 26 who acts like more like 35. Certainly, there are times when he is still a kid at heart, when he's away from everybody and he's around me, but overall his maturity level is way up there.

"To be a great champ you have to have a lot of great elements and he has those. But, I'm also proud of him from a standpoint that he has been tremendously humble. He has a lot of self-confidence and belief in himself, but I think Tiger Woods sets a great image and example for other players who might come around and be the next Tiger Woods."

Woods has been a tonic of sorts for O'Meara, keeping him young and helping give him added desire to practice and play.

That was never more evident than in 1998 when O'Meara won both The Masters and British Open titles and was named the tour's player of the year.

"Tiger helped motivate me to make my game better which helped me win those events," O'Meara said. "When you play and practice with the best, it makes your game better."

Woods has said that over his last five years he has learned how to keep balance in his life.

O'Meara said he has seen his friend grow into his role as golf's premier player with great grace.

"He handles himself very well now," O'Meara said. "He is more comfortable out in public. He knows he can go out at the movies or dinner and enjoy it, even though he is the most recognized athlete in the world.

"He has grown up a lot and I am proud of him as a friend."

O'Meara's best days on tour are probably behind him, but you won't hear many complaints from the Long Beach State graduate. He's had an incredible career, highlighted by the fact that he has never finished out of the top 125 on the money list.

"To be honest I never considered myself a great player," O'Meara said. "I've done much more in my career than I imagined when I was a young man growing up in Southern California.

"I think the last year and a half has been a learning process for me, to understand me and about myself, about what I have done and what I want to do."