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Mark O'Meara
Mark O'Meara is thinking of his father as he makes his way around the Old Course this week (Getty Images)

Thursday Notebook: O'Meara playing with heavy heart

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) -- Mark O’Meara didn’t come to the British Open expecting to hit the ball this well. Nor did he expect to feel such a strong sense of peace.

O’Meara wasn’t even sure whether to play at St. Andrews this year because his 81-year-old father, Robert, took a turn for the worse from an infection that his attacking a heart valve. His sisters are with him, and urged O’Meara to join them.

“It was touch and go,” O’Meara said after opening with a 69 on Thursday. “I love my father dearly, and if I get the call, I’ll go home. But I believe my dad would have wanted me to play.”

O’Meara, 53, was in Ireland at the start of last week for the J.P. McManus Invitational Pro-am. When he arrived at St. Andrews at the weekend, he cried when he talked about his dad. Some 20 years ago, before O’Meara won the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 1998, they took a golf vacation together to St. Andrews.

“He shot 89, birdied the last hole,” O’Meara said, smiling at the memory. “I filmed his whole round. We hired two local caddies, and couldn’t understand them. I know what this place means to him.”

O’Meara said he is unable to call because the intensive care unit does not have phones in the room, but his father is alert enough to hold his sister’s hand. “I hope he can see what I shot today,” O’Meara said.

“I feel very much at peace,” he added. “I’ve got to celebrate my father’s life. I can’t say, ‘Woe is me,’ because my father is sick.”

While he is trying to provide inspiration for his father, O’Meara is finding inspiration from the past two Opens -- Greg Norman leading after 54 holes at Royal Birkdale and Tom Watson nearly winning last year at Turnberry.

“If you’re hitting the ball solidly … I know it’s a cliche, but the golf ball doesn’t know how old you are,” he said. “Power helps you around here, but you can play a lot of different shots.”

For that, he pointed to the 348-yard 12th hole. Most players were hitting driver to within 10 yards of the green. O’Meara hit 5-iron to stay short of the bunkers, and he cut a 6-iron into about 10 feet.

EARLY WAKEUP: Paul Lawrie is believed to be the first British Open champion to strike the opening shot of the championship.

The 1999 winner at Carnoustie was in the first group that went off Thursday at 6:30 a.m. The Royal and Ancient noted that Lawrie woke up at 5 a.m. to get ready for the first round. Playing with him was Steve Marino, who awoke a tad earlier.

“I got up at 3:30,” Marino said. “I have a habit of waking up three hours before my tee time. It’s nice to be done with it now. I’ve got the whole day to relax.”

He and Lawrie each shot a 69, which seemed like a reasonable score at the time.

TIGER TALES: The London tabloids were tame when it came to Tiger Woods on the opening day of the British Open.

The papers, which have been avidly chronicling the sex scandal that tarnished Tiger Woods’s reputation, focused more on golf Thursday. Still, they managed to feature him prominently on the back pages with references to his on-course conduct problems.

“Don’t screw up again, Tiger,” said the headline in The Sun, referring to comments by three-time Open champion Nick Faldo and R&A chief Peter Dawson.

“The world No. 1 has been slammed for turning the air blue, spitting and hurling his clubs around after wayward shots,” the paper said.

The Sun said Woods had not endeared himself to fans at the Old Course by skipping the No. 1 and No. 18 holes during practice.

“He needs to give something back to the sport,” Faldo was quoted as saying. “You give to them and they will give back, simple as that.”

The Daily Mirror also carried Faldo’s comments on Woods under the headline: “Troubled Tiger needs support of the Open crowd, now more than ever.”

The Mirror also ran a story quoting Terry Matthews, owner and chairman of the Celtic Manor resort in Wales that will host the Ryder Cup in October, saying the sex scandal had actually boosted Woods’ level of global fame.

“Those people who didn’t know about him before know about him now,” Matthews was quoted as saying. “And more people will want to see him play golf. It is better to have coverage, whatever it is for, than no coverage.”

Most British papers focused on Faldo’s prediction that an English golfer will win the Open.

“Faldo: It’s the Brits Who’ll Storm In … Not Tiger,” said The Mirror’s backpage headline, playing off the awful weather conditions that plagued Wednesday’s practice.

ROAD HOLE MISERY: The Old Course didn’t have much bite? Try telling that to Anders Hansen.

The Danish golfer knocked his approach shot at No. 17 -- the famed “Road Hole” -- into the treacherous pot bunker left of the green. Then it took him four tries to get out, and he wound up taking a quadruple-bogey 8.

With his ball lodged up against the lip, Hansen first attempted to get out going to his left. When that failed, he took two swings straight at the flag, only to be foiled each time. Finally, he turned toward the right -- actually facing back toward the tee box -- and was able to get the ball onto the green.

A two-putt from there left him shaking his head and putting a snowman on his card.

Hansen, a regular on the European Tour, then bounced back with an eagle on the final hole, but he still finished with a 5-over 77 on a day when most players were able to go low because of benign conditions. He’ll need a huge comeback Friday to avoid missing the cut for the fifth time in eight Open appearances. But his performance on No. 18 should give him hope, as he drove to around 20 yards short of the green and then holed an 80-foot putt through the Valley of Sin for his eagle.

STRONG START FOR SIEM: Germany’s Marcel Siem celebrated his 30th birthday -- and his Open debut -- with a 67 at St Andrews.

Siem, who won a playoff at Sunningdale to earn his first start in the event after 10 years as a professional, was in the second group out at 6.41a.m., and capitalized on the calm and damp conditions in racing to 5 under after only 10 holes.

It was more of a rollercoaster after that -- bogey at 11, birdie at 13, bogey at 14, birdie at 18 -- but the pony-tailed golfer, who blew the Wales Open with a closing 74 last month, was happy enough.

"Compared to yesterday, it was a lot easier -- yesterday was unplayable," he said. "It all depends on the wind. You know, St. Andrews is not the toughest course in the world if there's no wind, so I think 3 under is an average round. The pins were pretty accessible."

PA Sport contributed to tihs report.

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