If you were asked to compile a list of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time, there is a risk Paul Lawrie would be forgotten.
But, such was the nature of Lawrie’s remarkable Open triumph at Carnoustie in 1999, he propelled his name into British sporting folklore.
Lawrie entered the final round in 13th position, 10 shots adrift of Frenchman Jean van de Velde and with the might of Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Colin Montgomerie, Angel Cabrera and Justin Leonard all shooting superior first three rounds and vying for victory ahead of him.
But Lawrie, like all of those great pioneers of the finest sporting comebacks – Ian Botham and England at Headingley in 1981, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United in 1999, Steven Gerrard and Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005 – had that one inherent, unwavering, all-important attribute: belief.
He immediately set about reducing the deficit as the fourth round begun, converting a birdie at the 3rd hole and draining a brilliant putt at 4 to keep his inexorably-growing momentum going.
At 6, he holed a putt of the highest golfing majesty, a long birdie putt to keep himself in contention before another long-range effort at the 8th continued to make dents into Van de Velde’s rapidly-diminishing lead.
All of a sudden, and with seven holes remaining in the Championship, Lawrie had climbed to fifth on the leaderboard.
A birdie at 17 came next in reducing the deficit, a hole that left him trailing the Frenchman by four shots heading into Carnoustie’s formidable 18th in an unlikely – albeit not impossible – margin to overturn.
And after somehow avoiding the water and then sinking an assured putt once arriving on the green, Lawrie finished his final round of the Championship with himself – just about – in contention for victory.
Van de Velde then began to stall, dropping a shot on the 17th and, in one of sport’s most memorably conspicuous displays of losing a lead, enduring a nightmare 18th to somehow set up a play-off with Lawrie and Leonard.
“On the way out to the play-off on the buggy, Adam (Lawrie’s coach) said to me right away when I got on the tee I had to look at the face of the other two players,” Lawrie nostalgically recalled.
“I looked at Justin and thought ‘he doesn’t look too clever’, and then when Jean arrived straight away I thought to myself ‘he’s trying to hide a bit of nerves here’.
“A completely calmness came over me, my mind was clear, I wasn’t thinking ‘what an opportunity I’ve got’, and I kind of knew almost straight away – I was going to win The Open.
“I just felt as though I was going to be Open Champion, right there and then.”
Lawrie hit a brilliant tee-shot down the narrow fairway, drilling it flush to put himself in a commanding position and with his maiden major – and golfing immortality – within touching distance.
And then came his greatest shot, an eye of the needle, perfectly executed 4-iron that sent the thousands congregated by the green into collective golfing raptures.
“I got over the ball, and straight away a calmness came over me – I wasn’t thinking about how it was the biggest event in the world and I was just unbelievably focused on what I was doing,” he said, reliving the pinnacle moment of his golfing career.
“And it came off, a beautiful, pure shot and the place just went ballistic – everyone was going bananas.
“It just doesn’t get any better to be fair.
“My hands were shaking a bit over the putt, but I just hit a nice stroke and it went in.”
Lawrie’s astonishing victory was complete, and with it, his greatest shot and one of the most remarkable sporting turnarounds of all time, a triumph where he defied the odds and conquered despite never once leading the field at any single stage during the Championship.
Greatest sporting comebacks? In future, look no further than events at Carnoustie on July 18, 1999.