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Sunday, July 19, 1998 Published at 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK

O'Meara wins Open thriller

The new British Open Champion: Mark O'Meara

Mark O'Meara has beaten Brian Watts in a nail-biting four-hole play-off to win the British Open Golf at Royal Birkdale.

The two US golfers finished on level-par after 72 holes of golf could not split them.

BBC Radio 5 Live describe the thrilling climax
O'Meara carded an impressive 68 while overnight leader Watts managed level-par.

The two were forced to play the 15th, 16th,17th and last holes for the championship.

O'Meara scored a birdie at the first play-off hole and parred the other three holes.

Watts struggled to hold his par at the 17th but stayed in contention to force the tournament to the last.

[ image: The shot that nearly won it: Brian Watts in the 18th bunker]
The shot that nearly won it: Brian Watts in the 18th bunker
But at the 18th his second shot found a green-side bunker which put paid to his chance of victory.

O'Meara held his par and received the adulation of the packed crowd.

O'Meara - who won the US Masters in April this year - becomes only the third golfer to do the US Masters and British Open double after Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.

Watts will consider himself unlucky having led the championship after the third round but O'Meara's power of the tee and his accurate putting proved decisive.

Win shared with young

Mark O'Meara speaks after receiving The Claret Jug
O'Meara's children joined him on the green as soon as he sunk the final putt, and he gave great credit to another youngster in his victory speech.

He turned to the 17-year-old amateur Justin Rose and described his performance in coming joint fourth as "unbelievable" and "phenomenal".

[ image: Family affair: Celebrations for O'Meara and offspring]
Family affair: Celebrations for O'Meara and offspring
The double major winner then recalled how he drank out of the famous trophy seven years ago.

"Royal Birkdale has been very special to me," he said.

"I won here in 1987 and in the 1991 Open I came down the last hole with Ian Baker-Finch.

"He won and back in Florida we drank out of the claret jug. I was hoping that that was not going to be the closest I ever got to it."

Afterwards he admitted that he had suffered agony waiting for challenger Brian Watts before the play-off.

[ image: O'Meara tries to steady his nerves watching Watts]
O'Meara tries to steady his nerves watching Watts
Watts almost snatched victory on the 72nd hole with a tremendous bunker shot.

The champion said: "Brian Watts is a super player and I know that because I've played with him.

Describing winning as "an incredible feeling" he said it was a special victory.

Mark O'Meara talks of his 2nd major success of the year
"It is a worldwide championship played on difficult links golf courses with demanding conditions and great players.

"To come home on top is an unbelievable moment for me right now."

And O'Meara claimed his victory was all the more special because of the appalling conditions.

"The weather changed every other day and the golf course played different every single day. That is what makes it so special," O'Meara said.

Watts upbeat while Tiger looks ahead

Despite his disappointment at losing the play-off Watts was happy.

"If you have told me early in the week that I'd be in a play-off for the Open I wouldn't have believed you," he said.

"I'm disappointed I didn't win but I'm proud of myself."

And Tiger Woods, who came third, looked forward to his next practice round with O'Meara.

Woods was delighted for his close friend even after missing out on the play-off himself by just one shot.

"The guy is capable of gutting it out and winning championships," he said.

The American world No 1, a comparative veteran at 22, also praised 17-year-old Rose: "He has held himself together really well."

"I think the key for him right now is to be consistent because the media are going to build him up to be something pretty big."

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