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"The thing about Royal Birkdale is that it's pretty straightforward," former Open Champion Mark O'Meara said. (Photo: Getty Images)

O'Meara gives us a champion's look at Royal Birkdale

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Including the 1998 Open Championship, Mark O'Meara has won three events at Royal Birkdale Golf Club. So who better to ask about how to attack -- and tame -- the famed course that will add an eighth Open Championship to its resume with the 137th edition of golf's oldest major is held off the Irish Sea?

By Lauren Deason, Editorial Coordinator

Mark O'Meara is thrilled to head back to Royal Birkdale Golf Club for the 2008 Open Championship.

After all, if you'd won two prestigious tournaments there and played in the final group on Sunday in a third, it'd feel more like coming home then heading thousands of miles across the ocean.

His past success -- he captured titles at the 1987 Lawrence Batley International and the 1998 Open Championship as well as tied for third in the 1991 Open Championship -- makes him a bona fide expert on the venue.

"The thing about Royal Birkdale is that it's pretty straightforward," O'Meara said. "You can see a lot right in front of you. There are not a lot of blind tee shots. On No. 9, you (have a blind tee shot) and maybe on No. 16 but, for the most part, everywhere else you can see everything in front of you, which is really nice."

While that sets Royal Birkdale apart from some of the other links courses that have hosted the season's third major, it shares something in common with all other Open Championship settings.

"The key to any Open Championship is to be able to flight your ball and play different shots. The wind is such a factor," he said. "I was over (at Royal Birkdale) a few weeks ago playing and it was quite windy. If the wind starts to blow, it's going to take low shots. It really takes that plus a good short game -- you can't win any major without a good short game."

Birkdale Golf Club was founded in the late 1800s and the links developed in 1922. Despite its history -- the venue has played host to eight Open Championships and two Ryder Cups -- Royal Birkdale has continued to change with the times. A few modifications have even been made since O'Meara captured the Claret Jug a decade ago.

"They added some length," O'Meara said. "It's about 155 yards longer than it was and they've narrowed it up a little bit. They added some bunkers and also put some mounding in on the edge of the fairway and rough line.

"When I was there a few weeks ago, the rough was a bit thicker but a lot depends on the weather. It's been wet the last few weeks and the rough has been a little thicker. If it gets a little drier, then the rough will thin out."

O'Meara added that the 17th green was changed to increase the slope but, for the most part, the greens are fairly "benign." Winds generally pummel the course from the southwest and create a tough-but-exciting test.

Though he'll be playing in the tournament, O'Meara will be watching for a few of his competitors to do well. He likes Jim Furyk's chances, plus gives a nod to PLAYERS Champion and last year's Open Championship runner-up Sergio Garcia. And, of course, there's always the youngest new star -- Anthony Kim.

"If you look at past champions -- other than me of course -- that have won there, it's produced really nice champions. I imagine that will happen again in 2008," O'Meara said.

O'Meara's five key holes at Royal Birkdale:

No. 6: "It's a 509-yard hole with a dogleg to the right that usually plays into a prevailing wind. That makes it really a monster of a hole and it plays like a par 5, with players having to hit driver and 3-wood there. It's a very key hole."

No. 15: "The first of the four tough finishing holes at Royal Birkdale, No. 15 is a long par 5 that usually plays into a prevailing wind."

No. 16: "That's the famous hole where Arnie (Palmer) hit it into the bushes and his caddie wanted him to chip out. He hit it out of the bush, onto the green and went on to win (in 1961)."

No. 17: "It's a par 5 but players can make it on the green in two. So you can have anything from a possible eagle or birdie but can also make bogey there. It has potential for a big score swing."

No. 18: "The finishing hole is a fairly long one, a par 4 with a prevailing wind off the left. On the four finishing holes and No. 6, as well as every hole at Royal Birkdale -- the par 3s are also really good -- the person who keeps the ball in play and methodically manages himself on the golf course is the one who will be in contention on Sunday afternoon."

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