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After his surprise runner-up finish at the 1998 Open Championship, Brian Watts has dealt with a number of health issues. (Photo: Getty Images)

Whatever Happened to: Brian Watts, 1998 near-Cinderella

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If you hadn't heard the name Brian Watts before the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, you knew it afterwards. The then-journeyman came within a whisker of winning a life-changing major.

By T.J. Auclair, PGATOUR.COM Interactive Producer

There were several compelling stories that came out of the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

It was truly a major that had it all - Mark O'Meara earning his second major championship win of the year, putting a second exclamation point on a very nice PGA TOUR career; 17-year-old amateur Justin Rose tying for fourth with a hole-out for birdie on the final hole; Tiger Woods finishing third.

Are we missing something? Oh yeah - the guy who finished second. No one remembers the guy that finishes second, right? Well, in this case they should.

His name was Brian Watts.

Understandably, few in the golf world had heard of him until the 1998 Open. A heralded college player at Oklahoma State, Watts was first-team All-American and won medalist honors in the 1987 NCAA Championship.

However, his path to the PGA TOUR wasn't quite as smooth as many of the college stars of today. Watts eventually earned a TOUR card in 1991, but wasn't able to secure his playing privileges for the following season.

After a couple of more failed attempts at q-school, Watts found his niche on the Japan Golf Tour. A world away from home, Watts excelled, winning 12 times from 1994-98.

At Birkdale, Watts was both the 36- and 54-hole leader. His lead slipped away in the final round, but he recovered with a dramatic 25-foot birdie on the 71st hole to draw even with O'Meara.

Watts thrilled the crowds on the 72nd hole with an incredible one-legged bunker shot that nearly found the bottom of the cup for birdie and an outright win. When the shot didn't fall in, Watts settled for a par, an even-par 70 and a spot in a four-hole playoff with O'Meara, the Masters champion.

O'Meara birdied the first of the four holes and never trailed on his way to the win.

With the runner-up finish, Watts locked up a card on the PGA TOUR for 1999. That 1999 season was impressive. Watts didn't win, but in 24 starts he finished in the top-25 11 times, highlighted by a tie for third at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.

After that, his game started to decline, mainly because of injury. He started to develop lower-back problems in 1999 and in 2000 began having pain in his left hip, causing him to slide down the money list and lose his TOUR card.

Watts got his card back for 2002, but the hip problems persisted and he eventually faded.

The reason for Watts' limited play over the last few years, he found out in 2006, was due to two herniated discs in his lower back and a meniscus tear in his left knee, which was a result of overcompensating for the hip problem.

Watts has only played in one professional tournament this season. That was at the Mizuno Open on the Japan Golf Tour - an event he won three times in the past. The top four finishers at the Mizuno Open would qualify for the Open at Royal Birkdale.

Watts had a promising start with a 69 in the first round. However, he missed the cut by one shot with a 75 in the second round in his only professional event since 2005.

At the age of 42 now, Watts won't be returning for the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale, but he's dedicated to working on his game as he gets healthy.

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