Golf: Unknown wins the Open

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The Independent Online
IN YET another amazing finish to a sporting event, a virtually unknown golfer won the 128th Open Championship yesterday. The feat of Paul Lawrie, a 30-year-old Scot, rivalled Manchester United's injury-time victory in the European Cup final and the last-ball run-out that carried Australia past South Africa in the semi-final of the Cricket World Cup.

Lawrie won the title, and a cheque for pounds 350,000, in a three-man play- off with Jean Van de Velde of France and Justin Leonard of the United States. He had virtually given up hope when the Frenchman suddenly squandered a three-hole lead on the final hole of the last round. Van de Velde, who is ranked 152 in the world, seven places above Lawrie, sent his ball ricocheting off walls and banks and finally removed his shoes and socks while wading into a creek that crosses the course.

Leonard, the 1997 champion, had been in contention all day until he put his ball into the water during the play-off. "I basically lost the British Open twice in one day," he said. But he expressed his sympathy for the unfortunate Van de Velde. "As bad as I feel," Leonard said, "he feels worse."

"There are some worse things in life," Van de Velde responded. "I read the papers this morning, like anybody else, and I know that terrible things happen to people. This is golf. It's a game."