The Scottish gallery sat in stunned silence as the greatest collapse in golf unfolded before their eyes. A little more than an hour later, they sang and swayed, celebrating the greatest comeback in major championship history by one of their own.
|Jean Van de Velde found deep rough, water and sand on the 72nd hole.|
"A fairy story," he called it.
But it was a horror story for Jean Van de Velde, the Frenchman who wanted to win in style and wound up losing in a shocking display of self-destruction.
"Don't be sad," he said. "I made plenty of friends because a Scottish man won. So, at least that's something."
After a week of whipping winds and bitter complaints about the cruelty of Carnoustie Golf Links, Lawrie won the 128th Open in a four-hole playoff over Van de Velde and Justin Leonard with birdies on the last two holes.
Lawrie started the final round 10 strokes out of the lead. More than an hour after he had posted his 4-under 67, he stood on the practice green as Van de Velde marched to the 18th tee with a three-stroke lead. His only hope was the nuance of British golf.
"Strange things happen, especially around here," he said.
Needing only a double bogey on the final hole to become the first Frenchman in 92 years to win the British Open, Van de Velde was lucky to make triple bogey and get into a playoff.
"I thought no way," Lawrie said when asked if he ever imagined a playoff. "Incredible."
The biggest comeback in a major until Sunday was Jackie Burke Jr., who was eight strokes behind amateur Ken Venturi in the 1956 Masters. Van de Velde was no amateur. The 33-year-old Frenchman just played like one on the final hole when he tried to be a hero and lost a chance to be a champion.
"Maybe next time I'll hit the wedge," he said. "And maybe you will all forgive me."
Leonard, the 1997 Open champion, made a bogey out of Barry Burn on the 72nd hole and thought he lost his chance to win. He hit into the same burn, made the same score, and knew he lost it the second time around in a playoff.
"I certainly figured out that Paul was Scottish," Leonard said. "That was pretty easy."
As for Van de Velde, he was the first player to lose a five-stroke lead in the final round of an Open since Jose Jurado at Carnoustie in 1931.
Lawrie, who was even-par for the playoff holes, closed with a 4-under 67, tied for the best score of the tournament on the toughest links golf course in the world.
That put him at 290, the first time over-par has won an Open in 14 years. Leonard had a 72, while Van de Velde staggered home to a 77.
Not since John Daly won the PGA hampionship in 1991 had a player come out of nowhere to win a major championship. Lawrie has won twice on the European Tour, including the Qatar Masters, but he was a mere 159th in the World Rankings. Daly was 168th when he won at Crooked Stick.
Lawrie also became the first qualifier to win the Open since it started giving exemptions in 1963. Before that, everyone -- even Ben Hogan -- had to qualify.
He became the first Scotsman to win an Open on Scottish soil since Tommy Armour in 1931 at Carnoustie. Still, Lawrie is an exception to the established champions Carnoustie has produced -- Armour, Henry Cotton, Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson.
Holding the Claret Jug as darkness and rain fell around the 18th green, Lawrie, who grew up about an hour's drive from Carnoustie, thanked his wife and "everyone who knows me -- which is a lot of you now."
Everyone is more likely to remember Van de Velde.
"There are worse things in life," he said. "Some terrible things are happening to other people. This is only a golf tournament. Yes, I blew it on 18. All it proves is I was capable of being three ahead of the best players in the world on 18."
Van de Velde gave the French a dubious piece of golf history. No one will ever forget who was behind the greatest collapse in the game, maybe in all of sports.
Greg Norman blew a six-stroke lead to Nick Faldo in the 1996 Masters, but that took an afternoon at Augusta National to achieve. Van de Velde went from champ to chump in a matter of 15 minutes over one hole.
The only other finish this fatal was Sam Snead in the 1939 U.S. Open. He thought he needed birdie when all it took was a par to win at Philadelphia Country Club. Snead slashed his way to a triple bogey and wound up two strokes out of the playoff.
No, this was much worse. And it was so simple, even at cruel Carnoustie.
Just hit the fairway. Pitch back into fairway. Anything.
Instead, Van de Velde did just about everything, none of it right.
He hit driver off the tee and was lucky that it found land, albeit on a peninsula guarded by Barry Burn. He would find that hazard before long.
His next shot hit the upper rail of the grandstand, bounced off the bricks bordering the burn and wound up in the rough. Van de Velde plowed through the long grass with a wedge and the horrified gallery, who had come to expect the worst, gasped when the ball sank into the bottom of the burn.
As if that wasn't enough, Van de Velde almost compounded his growing list of errors when he rolled up his pant legs, stepped into the chilly, shin-deep water fed by the Firth of Tay and contemplated playing a ball that was underwater.
He finally took a drop in the rough and hit in the bunker.
Craig Parry, also in the bunker in a more conventional two shots, holed his shot and offered Van de Velde one last hope.
"What about you following me into the hole?" Parry said.
Fat chance. He blasted out to 8 feet, but summoned enough courage to make the putt and get into the playoff.
"I could just see him throwing the tournament away," Parry said.
Van de Velde knew it as well.
"I went for it and all the glory," the Frenchman told him. "Now, I have to pay the price."
He paid it in a hurry, hitting his drive on the first playoff hole into a prickly gorse bush. He took a penalty drop on a path of crushed seashells, made double bogey and never caught up.
For a while, it looked like Leonard and Lawrie were also affected by their improbable playoff. Both missed the first two greens, both took bogey. Lawrie separated himself with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th.
Leonard and Lawrie were both in the fairway on No. 18, but Leonard hit first and came up short into the burn for the second time Sunday. Lawrie hit to 3 feet and became perhaps the most undistinguished Open champion in its 139-year history.
"I lost the British Open twice in one day, which is twice as hard to take," Leonard said.
But he knew the sympathy would not be for him.
"As bad as I feel, he feels worse," Leonard said, referring to Van de Velde. "That's tough to go through."
The winning score must have been equally difficult for Tiger Woods. Ultimately, all he needed was a 1-under 70 to get into the playoff, not too much to ask on a relatively tranquil day at Carnoustie.
Woods followed 11 straight pars with a double bogey. He finally ended his 35-hole birdie drought on the par-5 14th, but by then it was much too late. A bogey at the 18th gave him a 74 for 294, and a tie for seventh with Davis Love III (69) and David Frost (74).
Angel Cabrera (70) and Parry (73) finished one stroke out of the playoff at 7-over 291. Parry actually led the championship with seven holes to play until he made a triple bogey from the rough on No. 12, which enabled Van de Velde to regain the lead.
Norman had a 72 and finished sixth, giving him 15 top 10s in the majors this decade -- but only one title to show for it.
Lost in the hysteria of the final hole was a brilliant putting display by the 33-year-old Frenchman. Asked on the eve of the final round whether his putter was unusual, Van de Velde replied, "Yes. Because they go in."
Did they ever.
His 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to get into the playoff gave him only 101 putts for the tournament, a remarkable performance that was wasted on the craziest 72nd hole ever played.