O'Meara's reaction equal parts relief and disbelief in '98

O'Meara birdied three of the final four holes to win the 1998 Masters. AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

Mark O'Meara certainly had the experience, nearly 20 years of professional golf a part of his résumé, numerous victories and accomplishments. But he had never won a major championship, never truly been a factor over the final holes -- 56 opportunities come and gone without a true sniff of victory.

And so there he was at age 41, on the verge of his greatest sporting accomplishment, trying to digest what was going on at Augusta National.

"I've watched so many majors and played in so many majors and saw people make putts,'' O'Meara said. "I always wondered how anybody could have enough nerve to stand there and do that. And all of a sudden, there I was in that element.''

He stood on the 18th green 10 years ago with a chance to win the Masters. He had just birdied two of the previous three holes to tie for the lead. He had an 18-foot putt that would break from right to left. David Duval sat in the Butler Cabin, helpless. Fred Couples had a tricky par putt left, hoping for a sudden-death playoff.

O'Meara, after all this time, had destiny in his hands.

"Certainly, I was very nervous,'' recalled O'Meara, now 51 and playing the Champions Tour. "I didn't think about making it, but I did think sooner or later I'm going to have to make a putt, whether it was now or in a playoff. I just wanted to hit a good putt. I knew I hit a good putt and as it was rolling down there, the last two thoughts were, 'It could go in,' and the other thought was, 'Please stop!'

"When my arms and hands went up in the air on 18, it was just as much disbelief and the emotion of, 'What did I just do?' I was a little bit in shock. And then it started to sink in.''

It was an amazing final day. Duval, then 26, made birdies at the 11th, 13th and 15th holes and stood on the 16th tee with a 3-shot lead. But he bogeyed the hole with a three-putt. Couples, then 38 and a Masters champion six years earlier, had carded a double-bogey at the 13th, then rallied with an eagle at the 15th.

"It's something I wish everybody could experience,'' Duval said. "It was a lot more fun than it was sitting and watching the outcome. I just had a ball. I can't really explain. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be. I really felt like I kept things in check. I made some really good shots. I made four birdies and one bogey on the last nine. That's good stuff. It's just dream-like.''

O'Meara looks look back at his gutsy play under pressure and sees some good fortune, too. He made a 30-foot birdie putt at the third hole, a 50-footer at the fourth. He overcame a bogey at the 10th when it looked like the tournament was getting away.

And then he hit a 6-iron to the 16th green, setting up a birdie putt that he missed, but one that still gave him confidence.

"As nervous as I was, to hit such a good 6-iron and such a good putt, it gave me a calming feeling going into 17 and 18,'' he said.

O'Meara would go on to win the British Open that summer in a playoff over Brian Watts at Royal Birkdale. He also tied for fourth at the PGA Championship, then won the World Match Play Championship in a 36-hole final match over Tiger Woods.

He finished his PGA Tour career with 16 victories, but winning those two major titles sure made it better.

"I didn't expect it at all at that time,'' O'Meara said. "I thought my time had come and gone. When you do that, you lower your expectations. I would say most of my career, I put more pressure on myself, and that does more harm than good.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.