Paul Lawrie produced two magnificent birdies in the last two holes of a play-off to win the 128th Open Golf Championship at Carnoustie.
The Scot won the title after a four-hole play-off against the 1997 champion Justin Leonard and Frenchman Jean Van de Velde at the end of an extraordinary final day. Lawrie overcame the largest deficit in major championship history to come from ten behind with a magnificent final round of 67 for a six over par total of 290 to become the first European Tour winner since 1992.
As the others faltered over the closing holes the Open was drawn towards a play-off for the second successive year. Van de Velde had one hand on the Auld Claret Jug, as he led by three with just one hole to play but disaster struck as he made a triple bogey on the 72nd hole to take the contest into extra holes.
The play-off started with three pulled drives on the 15th, Lawrie and Leonard both finding the rough and Van de Velde the middle of a gorse bush. Van de Velde took a penalty drop before finishing the hole with a double bogey six against bogey fives of the other two.
On the par three 16th all three players missed the green, Van de Velde and Lawrie landing in bunkers while Leonard found the rough. All made bogey.
Van de Velde pulled a stroke back with a wonderful birdie on the 17th, only for Lawrie to edge a shot clear by following him in for a birdie three. Leonard’s putt for birdie on the same hole hung on the lip but stayed out.
Van de Velde’s chances disappeared with a hooked tee shot on the last. For the second successive time Leonard found the Barry Burn with his second, leaving the door open for Lawrie to claim the title. A magnificent second from Lawrie finished within a yard of the hole and the 30-year-old was crowned Open Champion.
“I can’t believe it,” said the 1999 Open Champion. “I never thougth I would get into a play-off. I just tried to stay focused on each shot and somehow managed it. To win in front of a home crowd was incredible.”
Van de Velde looked a destined to become the first Frenchman since Arnaud Massey in 1908 to win golf’s most coveted prize until disaster struck on the last. Leading by three playing the 18th, Van de Velde sliced his drive 40 yards right of the fairway.
It appeared as if the golfing gods were smiling down on him as his ball somehow stayed out of the Barry Burn and he enjoyed another slice of luck with his second. A pushed shot clattered into the stand, bounced on the stone border of burn running in front of the green and ricocheted into the thick rough.
But more drama was to come as he hacked his third shot into the burn and, after taking his shoes and socks off to stand in the water as he thought about playing it out, he finally decided to take a penalty drop. His fifth shot landed in the bunker and from there the Frenchman got up and down for a triple bogey seven to make it into the play-off.
Only minutes earlier Leonard had taken a gamble on the same hole, attempting to carry the burn with his second from the rough but finding water nonetheless. A chip and a putt gave the 1997 Open Champion a five to tie with Lawrie on six over.
Van de Velde started the final round five shots clear of the field but started losing ground with bogeys on the second and third. By the eighth, Australian Craig Parry had caught the overnight leader, but Van de Velde bounced straight back with a birdie on nine, his first of the day, to take the lead once again after an outward half of 38.
Parry again moved into a share of the lead with a birdie on 10 and then the outright lead when Van de Velde dropped a shot on the eleventh after a pushed tee shot.
Lawrie meanwhile was coming to the end of a magnificent final round of 67, four under par, which included six birdies, to post the clubhouse target of 290, six over par.
Behind him the drama was just beginning to unfold. Parry’s challenge effectively ended with a triple bogey on the 12th after a hooked second led to all sorts of trouble. Van de Velde dropped a shot but was again in the driving seat. Leonard, playing the group ahead, birdied the 14th to move to four over, but Van de Velde followed him in to stay ahead. The American dropped a shot on the 15th and when Van de Velde saved par with a chip and a putt the Frenchman was two clear. When Leonard found the Barry Burn on the last Van de Velde could afford a double bogey to win the title but the rest is history.