Golf: The Open - Prize for courage and consistency

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The Independent Online
PAUL LAWRIE produced a magical shot at the final hole of the four-hole playoff to win the Open last night. The Scotsman played the four holes in par, with the American Justin Leonard finishing three shots over and

Frenchman Jean Van de Velde a further shot adrift.

An error-strewn final day, as the rain poured down, capped an extraordinary return to the infamous Angus links after 24 years.

The playoff was only needed for the second year running because Van de Velde, requiring a six at the last to become the first Frenchman to win for 92 years, took a triple-bogey seven.

On days two and three, Van de Velde took the lead partly by managing to play the last four lethal holes in two under par. By making pars at the 15th, 16th and 17th yesterday, he gained a three-stroke lead standing on the 18th tee. What followed could not be made up. His drive hit a post to stop it going in the burn on the left, but his fortune did not last long.

Van de Velde's second shot was a poorly-struck push which hit the stand on the right, rebounded backwards, hit the wall of the Barry Burn that crosses in front of the green and landed in the hay the other side. All the Frenchman could do was have a hack and this time the ball ended in the water.

Knowing he had to drop back in the rough, Van de Velde took off his shoes and socks and investigated the possibility of playing the ball where it lay. Sense prevailed, but he could only find a greenside bunker. While Craig Parry holed out from a similar position, showing his playing partner the line, Van de Velde came out to ten feet and bravely holed the putt.

Of the pair that started the final round five strokes behind the overnight leader, Leonard had won the Open two years ago at Royal Troon, as well as two other tournaments, from a similar deficit. But it was Craig Parry who first got close to the Frenchman. Two bogeys from Van de Velde and a birdie from Parry in the first three holes took the Australian within two.

The short eighth produced a two-shot swing, with Parry holing from ten feet to draw level. Van de Velde responded with a birdie at the next, Parry matched him at the following hole. Van de Velde's driving, as it had been the previous day, was hardly doing him any favours and he bogeyed the 11th and 12th.

But having gone into the lead at the previous hole, Parry's hopes slumped in the rough at the 12th. He could not extract himself with his second and moved his third only a couple of yards. A triple-bogey there and a three-putt bogey at the next and Parry was removed from the contest.

At four over, Van de Velde was now tied with Leonard but went back in front by birdieing the 14th from five feet. The hallmark steadiness of Leonard's game was rewarded with birdies at the par-fives sixth and 14th and only one bogey. Until that is, he dropped a shot at the 15th and, at the last, went into the Barry Burn himself with his approach.

The bogey gave Leonard a 72 and dropped him back to the six over mark that Lawrie had set over an hour before by matching Parry's low round of the week with a 67. He also achieved the feat of not having a double bogey or worse during the four rounds. "Obviously, I didn't set out to do that but on this course it is a big achievement," Lawrie said. "Every single hole out there is a potential double bogey."

Lawrie, who won the Qatar Masters earlier in the season, started the day at ten over and produced similar last-day dramatics at Royal St George's in 1993. Then he pulled himself up the leaderboard with a closing 65, including a holed three-iron for an eagle-two at the 17th, to be sixth.

Growing up and living in Aberdeen, an hour away, Lawrie is not only accustomed to playing links golf and in windy conditions - he won the Catalan Open in 1996 when gales reduced the event to 36 holes - but was keen to qualify to play in the Open at Carnoustie. A back nine of four under at Downfield meant he made it with a couple of strokes to spare. "I was desperate to play," the 30-year-old said. "I have played here a lot and won a pro-am in 1991. If you can't get yourself up for playing in the Open there is something wrong. I love playing in the Open. The course has been very, very tough and even though there was no wind today, that must be my best round of golf I've ever played."

The first of his six birdies came at the third but saving par from 30 feet at the next relaxed Lawrie. "I felt in the mood," he said. Ironically, he dropped a shot at the next but he holed from 35 feet at the sixth and 25 feet at the eighth to be out in 34.

His best shot of the round was a four-iron to three feet for a birdie at the 12th but, having holed from 25 feet at the 17th to get to six under, his most fortunate moment came in just clearing the Barry Burn with his approach to the last from the rough.

He still ended up in the bunker but a calmly played sand shot gave him a five-footer to save par. As well as moving him up the Ryder Cup points table, Lawrie will receive an invitation to the US Masters at Augusta next April.

I didn't know about that until after coming off the course," he said. "I have always wanted to play there. I feel my career is only just starting. Now, I feel I can compete with these guys on a regular basis."