Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Champion Golfer of the Year, will hit first tee shot of The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale
The first tee shot of The 146th Open will be hit by 1998 Champion Golfer of the Year Mark O’Meara.
O'Meara's love affair with Royal Birkdale started in 1991, when he was tied for the lead heading into the final round, only to finish three shots behind Ian Baker-Finch.
But it was here seven years later, in a season that saw O'Meara transform himself from solid touring pro to Hall of Famer, that he enjoyed his greatest moment and lifted the Claret Jug.
Arriving as the Masters champion, he became the oldest player to win two majors in the same season, stroking home four birdies on the back nine to force a four-hole play-off against compatriot Brian Watts, which he won by two strokes.
Now, nearly two decades on, he will lead off the championship at 6.35am local time alongside Ryan Moore and Chris Wood.
England’s Wood won the silver medal for leading amateur at the last Open to be played at Royal Birkdale in 2008, and tied for third the following year at Turnberry.
The current Champion Golfer of the Year Henrik Stenson, who triumphed over Phil Mickelson last year at Royal Troon, heads an all-star group at 9.47am that includes world number three Jordan Spieth and Players champion Si Woo Kim.
Stenson has not won on Tour since his 2016 victory, and is bidding to become the first man since Pádraig Harrington in 2008 to defend his title – who coincidentally also accomplished the feat at Royal Birkdale.
While Spieth leads the list of a host of contenders seeking their first Open title, having come so close in 2015.
Home favourite Justin Rose goes off alongside Louis Oosthuizen and big-hitting Justin Thomas at 9.58am, with his best performance at the Open still the tie for fourth he achieved as an amateur here in 1998.
Further European hopes lie with Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, who joins Pat Perez and 2008 Champion Golfer of the Year Harrington at 9.36am.
And Southport local Tommy Fleetwood – who used to creep onto the course before the members as a youngster – will play with US Open champion Brooks Koepka and world number two Hideki Matsuyama at 10.09am.
And there will be plenty more fireworks guaranteed during Thursday afternoon’s action with the world number one and four locking horns at 2.48pm.
Dustin Johnson and 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year Rory McIlroy are joined by Charl Schwartzel in a group certain to draw a huge gallery, while European hopes Jon Rahm and Lee Westwood go off alongside Ryder Cup stalwart Patrick Reed in the next group.
Hot on their heels at 3.10pm will be Mickelson, seeking to become the oldest at 47, alongside Francesco Molinari and Marc Leishman, to win The Open.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia will be hoping major victories come like buses, and tees off at 1.04pm with 2015 Champion Golfer of the Year Zach Johnson and Australia’s Jason Day – with Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Paul Casey following shortly after at 1.26pm.
Meanwhile fans' favourite Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnson will lead the charge on Friday morning, as his group of Adam Hadwin and 2004 Champion Golfer of the Year Todd Hamilton tees off at 6.35am.