Out of nowhere, O'Meara an Open factor again

Mark O'Meara waves after a putt for par on 16 during the first round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield.

Mark O'Meara waves after a putt for par on 16 during the first round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield.

GULLANE, Scotland -- Mark O’Meara admitted he wasn’t one of the guys to consider in 1998 going into the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, but found away to confound the critics and win in a playoff over Brian Watts.

Well if he was an unlikely contender in 1998, coming into Muirfield 15 years later he was past a long shot to contend.

But here he is in the middle of the fray through the first round of the 142nd Open Championship.

O’Meara didn’t feel 56 years old on Thursday and he didn’t look it either making five birdies, mostly from inside 5 feet, over the front nine to go out in an impressive 5-under, 31.

But just as things looked so good early missteps occurred, a bogey on the par-4 10th with a poor 7-iron, another poor iron shot to the right on the par-4 14th and pulled drive on the par-4 15th hole and O’Meara erased three birdies with three bogeys and eventually stood at 2 under going into the par-5 17th hole.

Somehow finding away to regroup, O’Meara hit the green in two and made a long putt from the back of the green to move back to 4 under and almost got one more birdie back on the 18th, but just lipped out his birdie putt to shoot a 67, one shot off the clubhouse lead of Zach Johnson.

“It's motivating to watch what Tom Watson did at Turnberry,” O’Meara said. “It's motivating to see what Greg Norman certainly did at Birkdale. Do I think I can? When I play like I did today, yeah, I think I can.”

Since winning in 1998, O’Meara hasn’t recorded a top 10 in the Open Championship, his best finish 22nd at Muirfield in 2002 and five missed cuts, including the last two appearances in 2010 and 2011.

The 67 in Thursday’s first round tied the two-time major winner's best round in the Open. O’Meara recorded a 67 in the third round at Birkdale in 1991 and the first round at Royal Lytham in 1996.

“I always felt if I was going to play well, it would certainly be in The Open Championship,’ O’Meara said. “I know that today is a good start, and hopefully tomorrow morning I can get out there and just kind of keep playing and plugging along, and make some more birdies and see where we go.”

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