Jean-Francois Remesy successfully defended his Open de France title after play-off with Jean Van de Velde at the end of a day packed with drama and emotion at Le Golf National.
It was as if vociferous French galleries were witnessing a private contest between two of their own golfing stars as Remesy, the defending champion, and Van de Velde, fighting back after years of injury, went head to head over the final holes.
How the match ebbed and flowed until, with two holes to go there was nothing between them. But the drama was just beginning. First Remesy bogeyed the 17th, opening the door a fraction for Van de Velde who now took a one stroke lead to the final hole.
Van de Velde will always be remembered for the final round at Carnoustie when he took seven on the final hole when he seemed destined to win the Claret Jug. The pictures of him stood in the Barry Burn reverberated around the world and here he was again, on the brink of what for all Frenchman, is the biggest tournament outside the Open.
But the golfing gods dealt Van de Velde another cruel blow as he again found water, hooking his tee shot off the final hole. He dropped under penalty and played a magnificent long iron to the final hole to save a bogey, but with Remesy safely making par sudden-death beckoned.
Both players shot 69 for an 11 under par total of 273 and there was nothing seperating them.
By the play-off both players had given their all and there was little left to give. Both drove well but Van de Velde, playing first, hooked his five iron approach and it flew into the water beyond the green. Astonishingly Remesy, with the green beckoning, also found water short of the green.
But he calmly hit to seven feet and when Van de Velde, from an awkward lie found an even worse one in sand with his recovery, the title was Remesy’s.
Last year he ended a 35 year wait for a French victory and after waiting so long for one win, he has now won it twice.
"This is completely different to last year," said an elated Remesy. "It is a shame for Jean as he also deserved the title but I am very pleased to win it. Two times in a row is incredible. By the play-off we were both exhausted and it was difficult to really finish that. But I am very happy it was me who won and it is difficult to realise what has happened."
Van de Velde was understandably in tears at the end but he can take comfort from his performance this week and the fact that, after three years of injury, he has secured his card for another year.
“What a day, what a week,” said Van de Velde. “It was fun playing against Jean-Francois. He is a tough competitor. He played really well. Kept the pressure going. He made a little mistake on 17 but I equally made one on 18. Then there was no play-off, we were both done for.
“But the crowd was delighted and so happy and that is what matters at the end of the day. When was the last time two French guys were playing head to head and there was no third out there for the last hour and a half at least. It is great for French golf. I am delighted for Jean-Francois. I had a good chance and couldn’t close it out but I am pretty tough with myself. I have to look at it a different way. I haven’t been in any position like this in the last three years and haven’t been able to play golf the last two so at least I am playing well, put myself up there and all I can hope is to have another chance pretty soon. I have a job now.”
From the moment the leaders finally got underway after the three and a half hour delay as a storm passed overhead, the galleries were treated to one of the great final days of the season.
Romero, playing in the final group, exited the centre stage with a couple of early bogeys leaving the two Frenchman to battle out for the title on this magnificent stadium course at Le Golf National.
And how the contest ebbed and flowed. Van de Velde struck the first blow, holing from six feet for birdie to edge one ahead and when he holed his bunker shot on the second, it looked as if the golfing gods were finally smiling down on him.
Remesy had other ideas, following his countryman in from 35 feet on the second to stay one behind and then drawing level with another great birdie putt on the sixth, this time from 25 feet.
When Van de Velde missed the green on the seventh and bogeyed, the defending champion was back on top. Both birdied the ninth from similar distances, Remesy just in front at the turn.
Soren Hansen was threatening to spoil the party as he picked up three birdies on the front nine to lie in a share of the lead but his challenge faltered on the home straight, once again leaving the stage for the two Frenchmen.
Van de Velde hit back, birdieing from 15 feet on the 12th and then struck two huge blows to reach the 14th in two, setting up another birdie to move to three under and his nose was again in front. Remesy had a chance to level the scores but his birdie putt from eight feet slipped by on the low side.
Van de Velde’s exploits in water hazards are well documented and how close he came to finding water on the tough 15th, his ball just carrying the sleepers around the green by a matter of inches.
The last four holes are among the toughest in golf and maintained their reputation as Van de Velde pulled his tee shot on the par three 16th and, despite playing a sublime chip, missed his par putt and the two Frenchmen were once again level.
A hole later it was Remesy’s turn to drop a shot, missing the green on the long 17th and failing to get up and down, leaving Jean Van de Velde with a one stroke lead playing the last. The rest is history.