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Record comeback gives Lawrie title

ESPN Golf Online's British Open coverage











Monday, Jul. 19 10:53am ET
Harig: From champ to French toast

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- The foolish Frenchman tried to make light of his misfortune, tried to put a macho spin on his deplorable decision. The Claret Jug was Jean Van de Velde's to take home to France, golf immortality at stake, and he let valor be his guide.

 Paul Lawrie
Scotland's Paul Lawrie holds the Open trophy after his record-setting comeback at the British Open.

The carnage at Carnoustie Golf Links' 18th hole Sunday will be a topic of commiseration for golfers throughout the world, for nobody wants to see such suffering. Swimming across the English Channel might be easier to endure.

Yet as much as you want to feel sorry for Van de Velde on the morning after, the truth is, he was his own worst enemy, tripping over his pride when any kind of humble conclusion would have been acceptable.

Van de Velde wanted to finish in a blaze of glory. Instead, he is French toast.

Paul Lawrie is the unlikeliest of British Open champions, the first Scotsman in 68 years to win the title. A bloke from just down the road in Aberdeen, he shot the day's best round, 67, to come from 10 strokes back, a major championship record. He then birdied the last two holes of the playoff, a memorable occurrence itself, were it not for the exploits of the foolish one.

Van de Velde's playing of the 18th with a three-shot lead was a major championship blunder for the ages. Sam Snead blew the U.S. Open in 1939 when he made an 8 at the final hole and Arnold Palmer handed a Masters to Gary Player in 1969 when he double-bogeyed the last.

But for pure senselessness, this might be it.

Van de Velde needed only to make a 6 at the par-4 18th to win. He had fought off challenges to his five-stroke third-round lead, came back from a deficit, and took a three-shot advantage to the final tee. He was about to become the first Frenchman since Arnaud Massy in 1907 to win the coveted title. He had the luxury of being able to play conservative.

He didn't, and it cost him.

Instead of laying up in front of the Barry Burn with his second shot, Van de Velde wanted to go for the green with a 2-iron. His shot hit off a grandstand, leading to the debacle which included a shot into the water, another into a bunker, a blast on the green, and a putt to save a 7 and a spot in the playoff.

All of it could have been avoided.

Why didn't you just lay up, Jean?

"I didn't feel comfortable hitting a wedge," he said. "To me, it was against the spirit of the game. I'm going to hit a wedge and then another wedge and then what? Then three-putt from 30 feet and win by one? OK, fair enough, I would have won. But what a way to finish."


Hoisting the Claret Jug and earning a lifetime pass to the British Open and winning a PGA European Tour event for just the second time and realizing the dreams of every young golfer who wishes to play the game at this level. ... sure would have been lousy to win that way.

Van de Velde had to be a hero, something he admitted might have something to do with his French heritage.

"Yeah, that may be true," said Van de Velde, whose final-round 77 left him with a total of 290, 6 over par. "What if I would have hit a 2-iron to 10 feet. Everyone would be saying this guy is unreal."

They're saying it anyway.

Lawrie, for one, could not believe his good fortune. He gave two press conferences Sunday, one talking coming up short, the other as the stunned victor.

"Obviously, Jean had the tournament in his pocket," said Lawrie, 30, the 158th-ranked player in the world who captured his second European title of the year. "He chips it down the fairway, hits it on the green, makes 5 and he's the Open champion. ... I'm not here to criticize him. I feel sorry for him. He really should have won."

The bleachers rocked with delight, fans soaked with rain and drink, singing and screaming in the mist. The clock on the Carnoustie Hotel neared 9 p.m., and at any moment, you thought a soccer game might break out.

One of their own had just won the Open Championship, the first since Tommy Armour did so in 1931 at Carnoustie.

The burned Frenchman was sticking to his story.

Bob Harig, who covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, writes a column every Tuesday for ESPN Golf Online.

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