Mark 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 Championship. 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 Championship 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.
“It is a great golf course,” he said. “It is a demanding golf course, but yet straight forward in front of you. I know there are a couple of changes, but overall it is my favourite links course because of all the fond memories I have there.
“Links golf is really what golf is all about: the creativity, the multiple shots and the weather conditions depicting the scoring. It is the way golf should be played I think.
“The thing that makes Birkdale unique is that there aren’t a lot of blind shots. You can see a lot of what is going on in front of you. Your tee shot on nine is kind of blind, but other than that it is a very straight forward golf course. On 16 you can’t see the fairway off the tee, but every other hole it is right in front of you, and I like that.”
O’Meara is still searching for a maiden Senior Major Championship to add to his Major double in 1998, having finished joint runner up behind 2014 US Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson in The 2007 Senior Open at Muirfield.
Watson also won The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 1983, and with more than 30 Major Champions expected to be in the field for The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex, O’Meara believes the competition will be of a particularly high standard.
“I still want to win as badly as when I was 28,” he said. “I’m 56 now and I feel like I hit it as good as I did when I was winning Major Championships in 1998. That’s what makes golf so special – that at 56 years you can still be competing.
“You have seen what Tom Watson has done and there are a lot of guys play at a high level. You have Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie is getting ready to turn 50. It is pretty cool that at our age you can still be playing the game we love and making a living out of it.
“Colin turning 50 will create an extra buzz. A lot of the names people grew up watching are now playing in The Senior Open, and so it has a great fit for the game of golf.”
Golf fans hoping to see O’Meara and many more of the game’s all-time greats in 2013 can take advantage of a special advance ticket offer to reserve their place at The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex, from July 25-28.
Season tickets bought before June 30 can now be purchased for just £70 – a significant saving of £10 on the gate price.
One day tickets purchased before June 30 cost £25, a saving of £5 on the gate price, while practice day tickets are also available at the reduced price of £12, a saving of £3 on the gate price. Under16s are admitted for free when accompanied by an adult and parking is also free.
Tickets can be bought online via www.senioropengolf.com or by calling +44 (0)800 0232557, with details of hospitality packages also available.
Royal Birkdale, which last hosted The Open Championship in 2008 when Padraig Harrington claimed his second consecutive Claret Jug, will become the 11th different course to host The Senior Open Championship. It will be only the second venue in the north west of England to host the Championship, following Royal Lytham & St Annes (1991-1994).