Golf: The Open - Lawrie takes the Open home

Carnoustie climax: Van De Velde's nightmare on the 18th lets in Scottish outsider to claim dramatic play-off win
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The Independent Online
AN OFTEN tense and always controversial Open Championship ended in something close to farce at Carnoustie last night with an extraordinary victory for Paul Lawrie, a Scot ranked 159th in the world, after a four- hole play-off with Justin Leonard, of the United States, the 1997 champion, and Jean Van de Velde, of France. The winner took pounds 350,000, the second place pounds 215,000, and the third man pounds 155,000, all richly deserved for the entertainment they provided, although at times quality of their golf would have got them laughed off a public course.

Lawrie, a 30-year-old from Aberdeen, turned pro in 1986. Earlier this year he won the Qatar Masters, for which he received almost pounds 100,000, and has picked up around pounds 50,000 in prize money from other tournaments in recent months. Yesterday's victory, in the 128th and almost certainly the strangest edition of the tournament, was purely and simply a reward for keeping his nerve.

Until the final moments of the fourth round, Van de Velde had looked certain to become the first Frenchman to win the title since Arnaud Massy in 1907. Van de Velde is currently ranked No 152 in the world, which - along with the slapstick nature of his performance on the final hole, where he removed his shoes and socks to fish the ball out of Barry Burn - will fuel the arguments of those who claim that the preparation of the course effectively turned the tournament into little more than a lottery.

After starting the day as the overnight leader, the 33-year-old Frenchman arrived on the 18th tee three shots ahead of Lawrie and Leonard, and seemingly in full possession of his faculties. He appeared to have seen off every challenge with great spirit and a lot of luck, some of it possibly divinely inspired. So it seemed when when his drive down the 18th hit a fencepost bounding the Barry Burn and bounced back into the fairway.

Van de Velde looks something like a cross between Sacha Distel and Henri Leconte, but when his second shot hit the wall of the right-hand grandstand, bounced again off the wall of the burn and disappeared into the thickest rough, he gave the gallery a look that was pure Monsieur Hulot.

The Tatiesque nature of the comedy was reinforced after his next shot had landed not on the green but in the water. With his trousers rolled up to his knees, and with his wife Brigitte helpless with laughter among the gaggle of officials at the back of the green, Van de Valde waded into the burn to assess the possibility of playing the ball out. Deciding against it, he accepted a penalty drop and played the ball from another patch of rough - this time into a bunker. He chipped out and, showing an impressive degree of sang froid, putted in for the seven that took him into the play- off.

Van de Velde, Lawrie and Leonard thus shared a four-round score of 290, six over par for the four rounds, or slightly better than the most pessimistic forecasts heard during the opening stages of the tournament, when humiliation was being heaped upon the heads of a host of star players, some of whom were threatening never to return.

Several lesser known players profited from the discomfiture of the stars, among them Craig Parry, of Australia, who will perhaps count himself the unluckiest of the lot. Parry missed out on the play-off after chasing Van de Velde all day and even briefly holding the lead before falling victim to a triple bogey at the 12th hole.

A double bogey at the 12th finally extinguished the chances of Tiger Woods, whose long awaited attack came too late and then misfired badly. Woods began the final round in the same conservative mode with which he had confronted the much trickier conditions of the first three days, but by the time he finally took the driver from his bag, the spark was missing. Nor could he find his putting touch in a round of 74, three over par for the day, which left him tied for seventh place in the tournament.

During the earlier rounds Woods had emphasised the difficulty of the course while refusing to complain about it. A victory for the world's No 1 would have provided a prima facie justification for the Royal and Ancient's decision to prepare a course with exceptionally narrow fairways and fearsome rough. As things stand, there will be those who feel that the entertainment provided by the final episode was no compensation for the insult to the dignity of the tournament, and for the damage to its standing among the world's professionals, who may not be so keen in future to offer themselves up to the alien challenge posed by a snaking course on the north bank of the Firth of Tay.

We had a winner, eventually, although no definitive answer to the question of whether or not this course provided a fair test of the skills of thoroughbred golfers. The presence of so many unfamiliar names on the leaderboard fuelled the arguments that raged throughout the four days, spreading out from the pubs of Carnoustie to the bars of golf clubs around the world.

The complaints about the course had come mostly from the Americans, who are always ready to pay homage to the special position occupied by links courses in the game's history but do not always enjoy the reality. Carnoustie's championship course provided links golf in its most extreme form, is a test of temperamental control as much as of the ability to manufacture shots in improbable circumstances.

This was no accident. At the weekend John Philp, the links superintendent, launched an emotional defence of the course in which he made it clear that he had fully intended to create conditions of unusual severity. His course represented a return to ancient verities. "This is the old style, the natural style," he said. Those who objected, he felt, were the victims of easy living. "A lot of them have made no preparation for the world's greatest event. They thought they would come here and rip the guts out of it. Who the hell do they think they are? This is very special. This is serious."

This was the major in which someone asked the world's No 2 if he had been disappointed to make the cut - make the cut, that is, not miss it. "Not at all," David Duval replied, but he couldn't erase the suspicion that it had crossed his mind.

Duval, a 27-year-old from Ponte Verde Beach, Florida, found Carnoustie such disorientating experience that it seemed to scramble his perceptions. "If you start thinking you're not as good as you thought you were," he said, trying to summarise the effect of playing the course, "then you're in trouble."

When the moaning stopped and the final showdown began, what the tournament produced was anything but the conventional cavalcade of anodyne perma- tanned poster-boys in pastel polo shirts with addresses adjacent to the sun-kissed golfdromes of Florida and Southern California. It was, in fact, a form of the coarse golf played by millions at weekends, often in unhelpful conditions. As such, this fanfare for the common golfer had its own kind of grandeur, however perverse.

LEADING FINISHERS

290

P Lawrie 73 74 76 67

J Leonard (US) 73 74 71 72

J Van de Velde (Fr) 75 68 70 77

(Lawrie wins four-hole play-off)

291

A Cabrera (Arg) 75 69 77 70

C Parry (Aus) 76 75 67 73

293

G Norman (Aus) 76 70 75 72

294

D Love III (US) 74 74 77 69

T Woods (US) 74 72 74 74

D Frost (SA) 80 69 71 74

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