A number of players have produced great shots to seal victories in The Open, but few can match the birdie on Carnoustie’s 18th hole that earned Paul Lawrie the Claret Jug in 1999.
Lawrie, who has brought an end to his distinguished European Tour career, completed the biggest comeback in Open history to triumph 21 years ago.
In one of the most dramatic Championships in history, Jean van de Velde appeared certain to prevail before finishing regulation play with a stunning triple-bogey.
As a result of his painful experience on the 18th, Van de Velde found himself in a four-hole play-off with 1997 Champion Justin Leonard and Lawrie. And it was the home favourite, who had begun the day 10 shots off the lead, who duly prevailed to secure a dream triumph.
Lawrie had played superbly in the final round to vault up the leaderboard, shooting 67 on a fiendishly difficult course. However, the best was still yet to come.
Having returned to Carnoustie’s challenging 18th in the play-off holding a one-shot lead over Leonard and Van de Velde, Lawrie rose to the occasion magnificently.
In his Chronicles of a Champion Golfer film, the Scot said: “The wind switched a wee bit and it was the opposite direction, so it was now a little bit into the wind and raining. So you can’t hit iron off that tee and get on the green. I was only one shot ahead so we didn’t have any choice but to stand up there and hit a good shot with a driver.
“It’s very narrow down there and I absolutely flushed it. Sometimes you’ve just got to stand up and hit a good shot, and that was certainly one of those times.”
Although he had brilliantly negotiated one of the toughest tee shots in golf, Lawrie still had much to do as he sized up his approach from the fairway.
With out of bounds to the left, heavy rough to the right and the famous Barry Burn short of the green, he knew he had little margin for error with his 4-iron. What followed was one of the finest shots in Open history.
“I got over the ball and straight away a calmness came over me,” said Lawrie.
“I wasn’t thinking about what it would have meant to have won it, I wasn’t thinking about it’s the biggest event in the world. I was unbelievably focused on what I was doing and it came off, a beautiful, pure shot.”
Lawrie’s stunning approach finished four feet from the flag. He holed the resulting putt for his second successive birdie and a three-shot victory in the play-off.
“The place went ballistic. Everyone was going bananas. It doesn’t get any better,” he said.
“The 18th July, 1999 is a day that obviously changed my life and my family’s life forever. That evening, you become the Champion Golfer of the Year, it’s a whole different ball game and life probably hasn’t been the same since. You realise, this is massive. This is The Open, it’s the biggest event there is.”
Victory in The Open would be a career highlight for any player, but Lawrie could take extra satisfaction from his success, having turned professional with far more modest ambitions back in 1986.
“I certainly didn’t turn pro with the idea I could make a living playing the game,” he explained. “That was never my intention. I didn’t think I would ever be good enough.
“I turned pro with a five handicap – it would be a pretty big dream to think that you could go on to make a living or dream about winning The Open or dream about winning a tournament on the Tour when you’re a five handicap. It’s great to have dreams, but the reality was that I would have been perfectly happy serving the members in the shop and teaching the game.
“The members at Banchory when I first started would kind of laugh at me a little bit with how poor I was. They could see that I wasn’t very good, so then I started practicing most mornings, every lunchtime, every night after work, every single day.
“I turned pro with a five handicap and I went on to win The Open. I had a little bit of talent, but it’s not as though I was special when I was young. I had a work ethic, I had a desire and I had a passion to be the best golfer that I could be.
“I’ve never felt anything else than proud of what I’ve achieved. I still can’t believe it. It’s a pretty neat story, to be fair.”