O'Meara recalls major surprise

Mark O’Meara winning two majors in 1998 at the age of 41 came as a shock to most people – not least the man himself.

Mark O’Meara winning two majors in 1998 at the age of 41 came as a shock to most people – not least the man himself.

O’Meara was a successful PGA Tour player with 14 tournament victories to his credit before arriving at Augusta in 1998.

Less than four months later, he had won the Masters with birdies on three of the last four holes and the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale after a play-off with fellow American Brian Watts.

“If I told you how I felt going into the Masters in 1998, it would totally amaze you,” O’Meara recalled as the Open returned to Birkdale for the first time in a decade.

“I wouldn’t say I hit the ball that great in 1998. My stats would show I didn’t hit the ball that great.

“I wouldn’t say that my confidence was very high, but my expectations were probably so low, thinking that my time to win a major had passed.

“I guess just realising that took some of the pressure off and the next thing you know, there I was at Augusta National making birdie on three of the last four holes to win.

“If you had told me early in the week that I was going to be in the last group on Sunday, I would have given everything I have to tell you that there was no way I believe that was going to happen.”

Even with that victory, O’Meara was hardly among the favourites for the Open at Birkdale, but crucially arrived in a more positive frame of mind.

“Coming here was different because in 1989 I won the Lawrence Batley Invitational here,” added O’Meara, who has been paired with Sweden’s Niclas Fasth and former US Open champion Michael Campbell in the first two rounds.

“Then I played the Open in 1991 and I was in the final group with Ian Baker-Finch, tied for the lead after three rounds, and finished third, so I had a taste of it.

“In 1998, there were a lot of players in the mix and fortunately I got into a play-off with Brian Watts after he hit that spectacular bunker shot on the 18th. I believe in the play-off, being the current Masters champion, gave me a fairly significant advantage.

“I don’t know why it happened in 1998, at 41 years of age to have never won a major, and to finally have all that come true. I don’t know, maybe it just was the low expectations. Maybe you put too much pressure on yourself, especially in majors.

“There’s so much attention to worldwide golf that, even though you’re a good player, everybody is going to judge you on your record and how many majors you’ve won.”

O’Meara is also well known as a close friend of Tiger Woods, and said the world number one would be “sorely missed” at Birkdale as he recovers from knee surgery following his amazing US Open win at Torrey Pines.

However, the veteran American also believes it gives other players the chance to “step up” to the mark, both here and in the US Ryder Cup team at Valhalla in September.

“For him not to be on the team is definitely going to hurt the US team,” added O’Meara, who partnered Woods three times at Valderrama in 1997 but won just one point.

“But, on the other hand, it gives the team an opportunity to say, ’Listen, we don’t have the man, now we’ve got to step up’.

“I think the US team has got some talent. I think the depth of the European team is much greater and confidence is a big thing.

“They’ve won a lot and know they can beat the Americans because they’ve proven it time and again. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens without Tiger on board.”

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