Golf: The Open - Prize for courage and consistency

The Open: Rank outsider produces fireworks on final day to conquer Carnoustie and outplay his illustrious rivals
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The Independent Online
OVER THE four most tortuous holes of Carnoustie's tortuous course, Paul Lawrie completed victory in the Open Championship that appeared so hard no one could claim the winning of it. An error-strewn finale, as the rain poured down, seemed to cap an extraordinary return of the infamous Angus links to the Open rota after 24 years until the 30-year-old Scot produced two moments of brilliance to beat Jean Van de Velde, who had the winning the championship in his hands playing the 72nd hole, and the former champion Justin Leonard in a play-off.

A 15-footer for birdie at the 17th gave Lawrie a one-stroke lead over the American and as his opponents succumbed to the 18th for the second time, Lawrie hit a wondrous four-iron approach to four feet.

Lawrie, who was born and still lives an hour up the coast in Aberdeen, became the first Scottish winner of the Open since Sandy Lyle in 1985 and the first Scottish-born winner of an Open in Scotland for 68 years since Tommy Armour, a naturalised American, won in the first Carnoustie Open in 1931. The fact got a rapturous reception when read out at the prize-giving.

Ranked 159th in the world, Lawrie also became the first qualifier to win since exemptions were granted to the leading players from 1963. So it is the name of Lawrie, hardly a household one despite two victories on the European tour, which will adorn the sixth, until now unnamed, suite at the new Carnoustie Golf Hotel behind the 18th green. The first five are named after the previous winners of the Open here, Armour, Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson.

"Every kid dreams of winning the Open," said Lawrie, who turned pro 13 years ago with a handicap of three and served his apprenticeship as an assistant before getting on tour. He won pounds 350,000 and will now be on the European Ryder Cup team.

"It's a huge thing for anyone to do but especially in Scotland and to live nearby. This is extra special. To make two birdies in the play-off as I did is a fairytale, obviously."

The play-off 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.

It was many excruciating minutes that combined drama, farce and comic tragedy. Van de Velde, rather than lay up in front of the Barry Burn, hit a two-iron into the stand and saw the ball rebound into the rough from where he could not advance it over the water. Eventually, he holed a 10-foot putt to make the play-off. His five-stroke lead at the beginning of the day had disappeared after a closing round of 77 to finish at six over.

Still flustered when the four-hole play-off began 20 minutes later, Van de Velde drove into a bush off the 15th tee and had to take a penalty. He went on to make a double-bogey six but his opponents, having both missed the fairway, dropped a shot each.

At the 250-yard 16th, none of the players could hit the green, and none of them got up and down, Lawrie missing from eight feet to take an advantage. Then came the birdies, Van de Velde first at the 17th but, decisively, followed in by Lawrie. The Scot's approach there was with a four-iron, as it was at the last. "It was an awesome shot," he said. "I knew I needed to focus on making a four and just tried to put a nice smooth swing on it. Over the putt, I knew I had two for it but I was shaking so much."

Leonard, as he had done in regulation, found the burn with his second. "I just caught it a hair fat," he said. "I feel like I lost the British Open twice in one day which makes it twice as difficult to take. But as mad as I feel, I know Jean feels worse."

"I wasn't trying to do something mad," Van de Velde said of his second at the 72nd hole. "Next time I will hit a wedge and make six for sure."

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 tied the Frenchman and took a one-shot lead before a triple- bogey seven at the 12th.

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, six and 14, 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. "I thought Jean would make no worse than a five so I had to make three," said Leonard.

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. "When I finished, I never thought I would be in a play-off," he said.

He had 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 10 over and so doubled the previous biggest comeback margin by a champion.

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 - Lawrie was in danger of not qualifying 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. I didn't moan. I didn't bitch about the course this week. I just got on with it."