The Story of The 128th Open
“Jean should have won. No disrespect, I’m glad he did what he did. I can’t explain it but I had a feeling someone could come through who wasn’t supposed to.”
Those were the words of Paul Lawrie, who remarkably came from ten shots behind to overhaul Jean Van de Velde and win The Open at Carnoustie in the most dramatic of circumstances. From the iconic image of a bare-footed Van de Velde clambering into the Barry Burn to try and play his ball, to local hero Lawrie’s playoff triumph – The 128th Open will go down as one of the most dramatic of all-time.
It had been 24 years since The Open last came to Carnoustie and the famous Championship Course certainly didn’t disappoint – creating the sort of drama that had rarely been seen in the previous 127 occasions. Narrow fairways and thick rough caused havoc in the wind, as demonstrated by the fact that not a single player shot under-par on Thursday and first-round leader Rod Pampling remarkably missed the cut after an 86 the next day.
And that’s when Van de Velde – looking to become only the second Frenchman to lift the Claret Jug after Arnaud Massy in 1907 – stepped up, carding two of the most impressive rounds of the week. A second-day 68, followed by a Saturday 70 negated any damage done by his opening 75, to leave him even par for the Championship through 54 holes.
Perhaps not that impressive on paper but it ensured the 33-year-old was five strokes clear of his nearest contenders – American Justin Leonard, the 1997 Champion Golfer, and Craig Parry of Australia – heading into the final day.
No man in major championship history had ever come from ten strokes behind in the final round to win an event and a 30-year-old from Aberdeen ranked 241st in the world seemed an unlikely candidate to change that fact. Scores of 73, 74 and 76 had left him at ten-over heading into Sunday but Lawrie carded a sublime 67 to take the clubhouse lead at six-over, although that was still six shots behind where van de Velde had started the day.
But the Frenchman was having his own struggles, three-over through 11 holes while Parry was on a roll – the Australian, three-under for the day putting him into the lead by a single stroke. However, Parry faded with double bogeys at 12 and 17 to ultimately miss out on the play-off by a shot, Argentina’s Angel Cabrera lipped out a birdie putt on the last to do likewise, while Leonard bogeyed 18 to join Lawrie in the clubhouse on six-over.
Van de Velde was battling, successfully getting up-and-down having missed the green on 15, 16 and 17 to give himself a seemingly insurmountable three-stroke lead heading up the last.
Knowing a double bogey on the par-four 18th would hand him the Claret Jug, Van de Velde pushed his drive far to the right – on to the 17th hole – but opted to try and reach the green with a two iron, rather than laying up. He caught his second shot cleanly but it bounced 50 yards backwards off the grandstand next to the 18th green and landed in the deep rough. He hacked his third out the deep rough and into the burn, creating the iconic image of removing his shoes and socks, rolling up his trousers and wading in after the ball – before ultimately opting to take a drop.
From there he pitched his fifth shot into the greenside bunker, chipped to eight feet with his sixth and, incredibly, produced a nerveless putt to at least card a 77 and force his way into the four-hole aggregate play-off with Lawrie and Leonard.
Lawrie led by a stroke after three holes of the play-off and as the trio replayed the 18th, Leonard found the water, while Van de Velde found the rough and the Scot hit a four-iron to four feet to seal the Claret Jug with a birdie – a three-shot victory over the Frenchman and the American.
To his credit, a distraught Van de Velde was magnanimous in defeat, saying: “I made plenty of friends because a Scottish man won. But there’s worse things in life. You have to remember, putting in perspective, it’s a game… it’s a game. It’s not, you know, like life and death or whatever. It’s your name down on a trophy.”
Lawrie became the first Scottish-born player since Tommy Armour in 1931 to become Champion Golfer of the Year in Scotland and Hugh Campbell, chairman of The R&A Championship Committee, summed up one of the great Opens.
He said: “There was triumph, tragedy, romance, farce, pathos and controversy.”