O’Meara relishing Royal Birkdale return

O'MearaMark O’Meara will return to his favourite links course, and the scene of one of his greatest triumphs, when he joins the cast of Major Champions in the field for The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, from July 25-28.

The 56 year old American lifted the Claret Jug at the Merseyside links in 1998, defeating compatriot Brian Watts in a play-off to add a second Major Championship to the Masters Tournament he won earlier that year.

He also won the Lawrence Batley International at Royal Birkdale in 1987 to claim his first European Tour title, and shared third place with Fred Couples in The 1991 Open Championship at the venue, finishing three shots back from winner Ian Baker-Finch and one behind runner-up Mike Harwood.

O’Meara will hope that his fine record at Royal Birkdale continues when he attempts to succeed Couples as Senior Open Champion in July.

“I have great memories of Birkdale,” he said. “So many great things have happened to me there - in 1989 holing two seven irons on the back nine to win the Lawrence Batley, holding off Carl Mason and a couple of the other boys, Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam.

“Then in 1991, playing well for three rounds and being in the final pairing with Ian Baker-Finch, who went on to win The Open that year.

“And coming back in 1998 as the Masters Champions and playing well in tough conditions, hanging in there, getting in the play-off with Brian Watts and going on to win The Open. As a young guy and a professional golfer, that’s what everyone dreams of, to win a Major.

“I felt like if there was one Major that I had a chance with, then that (The Open) was it. I tended to be a lower ball flight hitter, and I love links golf.

“I have a tremendous respect for The Open and a great appreciation for Royal Birkdale. Now we have the opportunity to come back and play The Senior Open at Birkdale the week after The Open at Muirfield, so it is a great chance to play those two great golf courses.”

Among those trailing in O’Meara’s wake in The 1998 Open Championship was a young Tiger Woods, who finished one shot back in third position two years before winning his first Claret Jug, while 17 year old amateur Justin Rose famously chipped in at the last to take a share of fourth.

But it was O’Meara who created history by joining the exclusive list of players who have won the Masters Tournament and Open Championship in the same year, a feat subsequently matched by his friend Woods.

Given his memories at this year’s Senior Open venue, O’Meara understandably rates Royal Birkdale as his favourite links course and is relishing the chance to return.