British Open collapse lingers

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Its reputation as the toughest links in golf is now a footnote.

All but forgotten are the British Open champions who have conquered Carnoustie, a list that includes Tommy Armour, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson.

One hole changed everything.

Only one name is linked to Carnoustie now, and it won’t be found anywhere on the claret jug.

“This is only a golf tournament,” Jean Van de Velde said on a gloomy evening in 1999. “Who is going to remember this in 200 years?”

How can anyone possibly forget?

Van de Velde stood on the 18th tee at Carnoustie with a three-shot lead in the British Open, certain to become the first Frenchman in 92 years to win golf’s oldest championship.

And then it all unraveled with a series of bad bounces, bad luck, bad decisions.

“It was probably the best 71 holes in his career, and the one worst hole in his career, all wrapped into one,” Jim Furyk said.

The winner became an afterthought.

Paul Lawrie had a Sunday-best 67 in the final round to come from 10 shots behind, and when he outlasted Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a playoff, the unheralded Scot was in the history books with the largest comeback in major championship history.

Van de Velde wound up in the history books for all the wrong reasons.

He will not be back at Carnoustie, coping with a mysterious virus that caused him to withdraw from qualifying. In his place will be memories that are as vivid now as they were in 1999.

“It was amazing to watch,” said Craig Parry, who played with Van de Velde in the final round. “I really did feel sorry for Jean. No other golfer has had to go through that. Greg Norman got close. But this guy had his name on the jug.”

First, though, Van de Velde had a driver in his hand. And that’s where his troubles began.

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