ROYAL BIRKDALE, 1998
O’MEARA WINS AFTER DRAMATIC PLAYOFF
The 1998 Open Championship was played at Royal Birkdale, the eighth time it had been played over these links. All the greens were re-built, some holes had been lengthened and tees re-positioned in preparation for the competition.
Much was expected of world number one Tiger Woods, but from day one of the competition it was clear that the weather conditions and the course itself would decide the1998 Open Champion.
Woods and fellow American John Huston had the best start in the competition, scoring 65 each in the first round, five under par. Woods played the first nine holes in four under par, aided by some excellent long drives.
Nick Price, Woods’ playing partner, scored 66, his accurate drives only missing two greens of the first nine. Fred Couples and Loren Roberts also scored 66. Despite much crowd support, Justin Leonard, the 1997 Open Champion, and Colin Montgomerie shared a disappointing start, each scoring 73.
The second day of the competition dawned windy with heavy rain, and most of the players were affected by the conditions, with only seven going round under par, compared to the previous day’s 27.
Woods and Huston caught the brunt of the weather in the afternoon and scored 73 and 77 respectively. The little known American golfer Brian Watts scored 69 and moved to the top of the table, three under par.
Mark O’Meara also began to make his move in the competition, scoring an excellent 68 and moving up to joint sixth position. The day, however, belonged to 17-year old amateur player Justin Rose, who scored a record 66, matching the lowest amateur round score ever in The Open.
The third day of the Championship brought even worse weather conditions. By the end of the day, only Brain Watts had managed to hold level par for 54 holes, and only two players, Katsuyoshi Tomori of Japan and Costantino Rocca of Italy, managed par for the round.
Justin Leonard and Nick Price were adversely affected by the tough conditions and scored 82 each. Even Tiger Woods could only manage a 77, dropping from joint second to joint sixth position. Mark O’Meara continued his climb to the top of the table, going round in 72 and finishing only two shots behind Watts and tied with Jesper Parnevik and Jim Furyk.
Going into the final round, eight players were in a position to take The Open title. Woods went round in 66 to set a clubhouse target of 281. He finished with birdies on three of the last four holes. Justin Rose, by now the crowd favourite, finished in fourth place following an excellent round of 69, for a total of 282.
Watts reached the ninth hole two strokes ahead of O’Meara, but down the back nine, the lead changed hands several times. A magnificent bunker shot by Watts at the 18th helped him finish on 280 in a tie with O’Meara, both one stroke ahead of Woods.
The playoff began at the 15th hole and O’Meara started with a birdie, which Watts could not match. Both made par at the next two holes and then Watts took a five compared to O’Meara’s four at the 18th hole. Mark O’Meara, at the age of 41, was The Open Champion.