Van de Velde's nightmare lets Lawrie live Carnoustie dream

Collapse at 18 opens door for `local boy'

July 19, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- It ended in the gloom and rain, with the lilt of bagpipes wafting over the 18th green, with the crowd singing "The Flower Scotland" and with an unlikely champion finally holding aloft a silver claret jug and shouting, "I'm a local boy! Let's hear it!' "

Scotland's Paul Lawrie won a three-way playoff and claimed the British Open at Carnoustie yesterday, capping a moment of golfing drama that nearly defied belief.

This was the storybook finish that nobody expected, a Scot winning on home turf. And it was the last, desperate twist thrown up by a monstrous course that bedeviled the world's greatest golfers from start to finish.

Lawrie came from 10 shots off the lead in the final round, fired a 4-under-par 67 and roared into a playoff only after the stunning, last-hole collapse of France's Jean Van de Velde.

For Van de Velde, Carnoustie turned into heartbreak hotel. All the journeyman from France needed was a double bogey on the last hole to win the tournament.

But he couldn't do it, recording a wacky and devastating triple-bogey 7 on the 18th, thus staggering into the playoff with Lawrie and American Justin Leonard, all at 6-over 290 after four torturous days of golf.

And in the playoff, with thousands of fans stampeding along the course, it was Lawrie who steeled his nerve in the pouring rain. He played the four holes at even par, sinking one last four-foot birdie putt at the 18th to beat Van de Velde and Leonard by three strokes.

"The playoff was a circus," Lawrie said. "Everyone was inside the ropes, shouting your name."

But it was a glorious circus for Lawrie, born and raised in nearby Aberdeen.

"Every kid dreams about winning the Open," he said.

But not necessarily like this, for Lawrie's victory was built on Van de Velde's collapse, perhaps the most devastating in major-championship history.

"Jean had the tournament in his pocket," Lawrie said. "He really should have won. Thankfully for me, he didn't."

The nightmare at the par-4 18th will probably haunt Van de Velde for the rest of his career.

He could have played it safe and won the title. But he didn't.

"I didn't need to go for glory," said Van de Velde, whose 54-hole, even-par lead went up in smoke with a final-round 77. "That wasn't something mad I did. But it was a nightmare."

He hit a driver off the tee on 18. He was positioned beautifully for a lay-up wedge. Instead, he knocked a 2-iron off the stands and into the deep rough.

"I pushed it a little," he said. "It hit the grandstand and came back into the land of rocks. It would have been better off in the water. I had a dramatic lie."

Things got worse when he popped a wedge into a creek just in front of the green. He nearly tried to splash the ball out, taking off his shoes and socks, and even bounding into the water, before deciding to take a penalty drop.

Then, he put his chip into a bunker, and finally hustled his way into the playoff by blasting out and sinking a 15-foot putt.

"A good up-and-down, mind you," he said. "I'm glad I got a 7."

Van de Velde, who tried to joke his way through a press conference, added: "I will say I played 71 holes very well."

But in the moments after the tournament had ended, Van de Velde showed his true emotions, sitting down inside a trailer, burying his head in his hands and brushing away tears.

"There are worse things in life," Van de Velde said. "Some terrible things are happening to other people. It's a golf tournament. A game. I gave it my best shot."

So did Leonard, who could have won this tournament outright had he not bogeyed the 72nd hole in a desperate bid for one last birdie to turn up the heat on Van de Velde.

"I thought I had lost at that point," Leonard said, of walking off the course after his final-round 72.

But then he saw Van de Velde smack the ball into the creek, and started making playoff preparations.

"As bad as I feel, he feels worse," Leonard said. "That's tough to go through. To have a lead on the last hole and not be able to win, it had to be a sick feeling for him."

But when he showed up at the 15th for the start of the playoff, Van de Velde was cracking jokes, trying to stay loose. Yet that was nearly impossible, as fans jostled for position along a course that has the look of a lunar landscape.

"It was pretty much chaos out there," Leonard said.

And out of the chaos, Lawrie emerged with the championship, cracking two stupendous 4-iron approach shots for birdies on 17 and 18.

"I played beautifully; holed a lot of putts," Lawrie said. "You have to do it around here."

He also kept calm about the playing conditions on a course that was severely criticized by the pros.

"I went out and did my job," Lawrie said. "I didn't moan."

And neither did Van de Velde, who was having the tournament of his life in his bid to become the first Frenchman to win the British Open since 1907.

But then, came the 18th and golfing infamy.

"I made plenty of friends because a Scottish man won," said Van de Velde. "So, at least that's something."

Unlucky 7

Leading by three shots, France's Jean Van de Velde needed a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 18th hole to clinch the British Open. Instead, he found disaster, then lost a three-man, four-hole playoff to Paul Lawrie:

1st shot: Drive narrowly missed stream that runs length of 18th fairway.

2nd shot: Hit a grandstand and rebounded into heavy rough.

3rd shot: Chipped into stream in front of green.

4th shot: Took penalty drop.

5th shot: Chipped into green-side bunker.

6th shot: Chipped to within 15 feet of hole.

7th shot: Sank putt.

British drama

Paul Lawrie, Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard finished tied at 6-over 290, creating a four-hole playoff:

Player 4th rd. Playoff

Lawrie 67 (-4) Even

Van de Velde 77 (+6) +3

Leonard 72 (+1) +3

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