Golf: Mark O'Meara's farewell to Birkdale begins with a round to forget

US golfer Mark O'Meara lines up a putt on the 8th green during his opening round on the first day of the Open Golf Championship at Royal Birkdale golf course near Southport in north west England on July 20, 2017.
US golfer Mark O'Meara lines up a putt on the 8th green during his opening round on the first day of the Open Golf Championship at Royal Birkdale golf course near Southport in north west England on July 20, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (Reuters) - Former winner Mark O'Meara was given the honour of being first off in what will almost certainly be his final British Open, but the American endured a horrible round of 81 in the rain at Royal Birkdale.

The 60-year-old won at the course on the north-west coast in 1998 and this is his final year of automatic eligibility for the competition.

But when he dips into his Birkdale memories in years to come he will surely try to blank out Thursday's round of 11-over.

Tournament organisers, the Royal and Ancient golf club (R&A), had honoured O'Meara by making him first to tee off in the opening round, but he drove his first shot out of bounds and had to battle to make a quadruple bogey eight.

"I just got off to such a poor start. When you're nine-over par through eight holes or whatever I was, you know, it's very disappointing, to be honest with you, but it's not the end of the world. I realise kind of where I'm at in my life," he said.

He is ranked 1,627th in the world and now on the Champions Tour, so it is hard to see him qualifying in the future.

"For the R&A to give me that privilege at the first tee shot shows the respect for what they have for their Open champions, the respect to know that this was going to be my last Open Championship," he said.

Despite his disappointing round, he was still able to reflect positively on his past success.

"Look, to have my name on that Claret Jug one time is an amazing thing, especially for a young guy, growing up in Southern California starting the game late. And at 41 to have that dream come true was pretty neat," he said.

His win at Birkdale in 1998 came just a few weeks after his first and only win in the Masters at Augusta.