They thought it was all over: The year of the photo-finish: Driven to the drink

THE CARNOUSTIE CATASTROPHE

JEAN VAN DE VELDE returned to the scene of the "crime" last week: the 18th hole at Carnoustie.

After the Frenchman had taken a triple bogey seven at the last to blow a three-stroke lead in the Open Championship, a French commentator remarked that his countryman would have been better off by playing the hole with his putter.

It struck a chord with an American advertising agency, hence the return. The commercial shows Van de Velde playing the 18th with just one club - his putter, which has the brand name "Never Compromise". Did he score lower than a seven? The result is a secret but we have it on good authority that he did much better than that.

Carnoustie in December was freezing. "What a spot to lose a play-off," Van de Velde said. "Next time it will be Hawaii or Augusta." He will make his debut at Augusta National in April for the Masters, a sign that losing the Open is not the end of the world. It's how you lose it that counts.

"He has probably generated more interest than if he'd won it," Jamie Cunningham, his manager, said. "Of course there's a tinge of disappointment, but there have been so many positives." Would Van de Velde have appeared in Sports Illustrated had he won? Probably not.

Although he has switched clubs from Cobra to Cleveland and golf balls from Titleist to Dunlop, his sponsors, Disneyland in Paris and Lacoste, have renewed contracts. His new website Allez Jean, has attracted more than 200,000 hits and he has launched his own wine.

Van de Velde shattered several conventions at Carnoustie including the one that says nobody remembers who comes second. It's difficult to forget. While many of the favourites said the course was unplayable and unfair, Van de Velde played it to par after three rounds by which point he led the field by five strokes. When he stood on the 18th tee he was still three in front. He could have afforded to have taken a double-bogey six and still won.

He hit a two-iron approach which cleared the Barry Burn in front of the green but his ball took a freak bounce off a stand to the right. It shot backwards, towards him, back over the burn and into deep rough. From a terrible lie he failed to clear the stream and then thought about the unthinkable: playing the ball from the water. As he stood over it, in his bare feet and with his trousers rolled up to his knees, all that was missing was a knotted handkerchief from the top of his head. Finally he took a penalty drop, chipped into a bunker and got up and down in two for a seven which got him into a four-hole play-off.

Paul Lawrie, a 30-year-old Aberdonian who had begun the final round 10 strokes adrift, won it in style with two unbeatable birdies at 17 and 18. The Scotsman left an indelible mark but so did Van de Velde. At the Carnoustie Links Hotel, a suite overlooking the 18th green has been named after him.

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