O’Meara captured the Open, and a first prize of £300,000, following a four day examination which concluded with a final afternoon of such high drama that anyone of seven supreme contenders could have won the famous claret jug.
They included Sweden’s Jesper Parnevik, Scotland’s Raymond Russell and England’s Justin Rose. In the end O’Meara tied Watts with a 68 to a 70 for a level par total of 280 - one ahead of Tiger Woods (66) and two in front of Parnevik, Rose, and American Jim Furyk.
Russell, winner of the 1996 Cannes Open, produced a wonderful equal-best-of-the-day 66 which included birdies at the 15th and 17th in addition to a superb third shot to three feet at the 18th with which he saved par. He said: “My parents have been tremendously supportive throughout, and my girlfriend Clair, stuck by me, and helped me keep calm during the worst times, as I kept missing cuts when recovering from a bout of hepatitis I suffered at the start of the year.”
Rose, who scored 66 in the second round to be one behind halfway leader Watts, earned the silver medal for being leading amateur with a prodigious performance which he brought to a grandstand end by holing a 50-yards third shot for a birdie at the 18th.
O’Meara, however, claimed the Championship following the four hole play-off which he won by two shots. The 41-year-old American had tied Watts with successive birdies at the 11th and 12th, taken the lead with another at the 14th and recovered from a bogey at the 16th with another birdie at the 17th. Watts returned to level with a 15-foot birdie putt at the 17th and he superbly got up and down from a bunker at the last to tie with O’Meara.