GULLANE, Scotland – Mark O’Meara saw what Greg Norman nearly pulled off at Royal Birkdale.
He saw how close Tom Watson came at Turnberry.
So as he waltzed his way through his best major round in four years, O'Meara began to wonder if he, too, would enjoy his own turn-back-the-clock moment at the British Open.
Apparently so. On Thursday, he came one agonizing lip-out from sharing the first-round lead at Muirfield. He settled for a 4-under 67 that left him one shot back of Zach Johnson.
“I didn’t feel like I was 56 years old out there; I felt like I was 32,” O’Meara said afterward. “I’m not saying that one round makes a tournament, because it doesn’t. I’ve done this many times. I’ve been here. But it’s nice to have played well.”
O’Meara never won another PGA Tour event after hoisting the claret jug in 1998, at age 41. When he isn’t home with his family he spends his time on the Champions Tour (where he hasn’t won since 2010), and tees it up twice a year with the younger crowd, at the Masters and Open.
The opening 67 here was just his third sub-70 score in his last 57 major rounds, and his first since an opening 69 at the 2010 Open. There, he backed it up with a second-round 78 to miss the cut.
“There are times the way I play and strike the ball that I feel like I am actually a better player now than I was maybe 15 years ago,” he said. “I understand that I’m not a spring chicken or I may not putt as good or chip as good, but the quality of shots that I hit out there today, I would say, ‘Hey, ‘that’s as good as I played when I was in my prime.’”
O’Meara wasn’t the only player from the over-50 set to have a memorable day, either. Tom Lehman, 54, birdied the last two holes to shoot 68. He’s only two shots back.