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British Open had share of great shots, storylines

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / July 27, 1998

The British Open, golf’s event for the ages, showed once again that thesport is one for all ages. There was Mark O’Meara adding the claret jug to the green jacket that hewon at the Masters in April, becoming, at age 41, the oldest player to wintwo majors in the same year and the first player to win two majors in thesame season since Nick Price did it in 1994. But to win it, O’Meara had towin a four-hole playoff with 32-year-old Brian Watts and charges by 17-year-old Justin Rose and Tiger Woods. O’Meara played steady if unspectacular over the four rounds on a RoyalBirkdale course that brought some of the best golfers in the world to theirknees. Fan favorite Tom Watson, a five-time Open winner, missed the cut as didpast winners Tom Lehman and John Daly. Daly shot a 10 on the 18th hole onFriday to take himself out of the tournament.Colin Montgomery’s Open woes continued as he missed the cut for the fifthtime in seven years. Bob Tway, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, PaulAzinger, Corey Pavin, Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw and Steve Elkington, allpast major winners, also watched the weekend from afar. So did amateurMatt Kuchar who had placed in the top 25 at both the Masters and the U.S.Open.Woods was tied for the lead with John Huston after the first round andmade a late charge Sunday with birdies on three of the last four holes,including a chip-in on 17 and a long putt on 18. But a 73 and 77 on Fridayand Saturday, respectively, in Birkdale’s blustery conditions, kept himfrom running away with his second major. Watts was able to fight through the conditions to take the lead with a 69on Friday and kept it through Sunday with a 73 on Saturday. Rose, whoturned pro after the tournament, stayed in contention with rounds of 66and 75 on Friday and Saturday.Rose had one of the shots of the tournament Sunday, knocking in a wedgefrom the rough from 45 yards out on the 18th hole. But it was Watts whohad one of those shots that people talk about for years, knocking a shotfrom the greenside bunker to within a foot from the pin on the 72nd holeto force a playoff with O’Meara.The Open’s unique (some would say illogical) four-hole playoff was acontest between two golfers with entirely different backgrounds. O’Mearais a veteran of the PGA Tour who finally broke through for his first majorthis year. Watts, on the other hand, makes his living on the Japanese Tourand was making his first major contention in a major.In the playoff, O’Meara continued to play his steady golf (he finished withrounds of 72, 68, 72 and 68), nailing a birdie putt on the 15th hole andparring the next two.Watts missed birdie putts on the first two holes and parred the 17th tofall one shot behind. His hopes all but vanished when he went into thesame greenside bunker on 18th and could not duplicate his heroics ofregulation, running his chip 20 feet past the hole and two putting forbogey. All that was left was for O’Meara to sink his par putt for the victory. Withthe victory, he now has one more major than his neighbor and good friendWoods. Not bad for someone who just a few short months ago was one ofthose very good players who had never won a major.With Rose joining the pro ranks, the young guns of the sport have one morearsenal to bring to the majors. Woods, Rose, Justin Leonard, Lee Westwoodand Ernie Els will all probably challenge for majors in the next couple ofyears. But for one more tournament, it was good to see one of the veteransfinish on top again.

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