Sometimes a tournament is known more for the one who lost than the person who won. In the case of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie, it would be very hard to argue that Paul Lawrie is the name that first comes to mind.
The Scotsman has a Claret Jug and a spot in the tournament every year — and he prevailed due to an underrated final round that put him in position to win in a playoff — but it is the Frenchman, Jean Van de Velde, who is most associated with the venue and the tournament.
Leading by 3 strokes standing on the 18th tee at the 499-yard home hole, Van de Velde needed just a double-bogey 6 to claim the title and become the first player from France to win The Open since Arnaud Massy in 1907.
A comedy of errors ensued, with Van de Velde hitting a grandstand, knocking an approach in the Barry Burn, wading into the water to hit it before deciding against, and finally making a 6-footer for triple-bogey to join Lawrie and Justin Leonard in a four-hole playoff.
Lawrie prevailed, and Van de Velde went down in dubious history. Here is how it unfolded.
The tee shot
While he could have recovered, hitting a driver off the tee was his first mistake. Needing only a 6, Van de Velde could have played safely into the fairway with an iron, with no need of going for the green in 2. Instead, he pulled out the big stick and hit a wayward shot that was fortunate to find land as it barely cleared the meandering Barry Burn (it comes into play twice on the hole) and came to rest on the 17th hole.
The shot from the grandstands
After fortunately having a second shot following his wayward drive, Van de Velde inexplicably hit a 2-iron in an attempt to go for the green, rather than lay up into the fairway. He blasted the shot to the right where it sailed toward the grandstands. While this was a poor decision, the result was terribly unlucky — had it flown into the stands, Van de Velde would have received a free drop and been within range of a pitch to the green.
But the ball hit one of the railings on the grandstand, bounded toward a stone wall that guarded the Barry Burn and then bounced high in the air, 50 yards backward, coming to rest in tall, thick rough.
Even from there, Van de Velde still could have played his third into the fairway, wedged on with a fourth and attempted to two-putt for victory. Instead, he elected to play the third toward the green, with the Barry Burn beckoning.
Wading into the water
The third did not go well. Instead of finding the green and giving Van de Velde three putts for the win, the thick rough thwarted his attempted. The ball came up well short into the water that fronts the green, known in Scotland as a burn but more commonly a creek or a river.
Now Van de Velde lay three in the water, with his ball barely submerged. It got him thinking about actually playing the shot, and so he took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants, and gave it a look.
Thinking better of it
The thousands of spectators who surrounded the 18th hole could not believe what they were seeing. After considerable time surveying the shot, Van de Velde thought better of it. Then came the process of getting himself put back together.
Penalty shot, but still a chance
Van de Velde now had to take a penalty before a drop. He would be laying 4 in the rough, with the water still between him and the green.
Even after all that had transpired at this point, Van de Velde still had the opportunity to get up and down for a 6 and win the tournament. At worst, he would get on the green and 2-putt for a playoff. But again, the rough was an issue, and the fifth shot came up short in a greenside bunker.
The putt to tie … and the celebration
From the bunker, Van de Velde blasted to 6 feet, a putt he needed for a triple-bogey 7 to join Lawrie and Leonard in the playoff.
Given all he had endured, Van de Velde was no lock to make the putt. And many figured he’d miss, which would have meant a quadruple-bogey 8. But he made the putt, and perhaps trying to pump himself up, was quite animated with the feat, at least giving himself a chance in a playoff.
But it wasn’t to be for Van de Velde. Lawrie had made up 10 strokes on the lead with a final-round 66. Leonard shot 71 to join him at 286, 6 over par. Van de Velde, who began the final round at even par, shot 76 to fall into the playoff.
The four-hole aggregate was played over the final four holes, with Lawrie and Leonard making bogey at the 15th while Van de Velde double-bogeyed. All three players bogeyed the 16th hole, while Lawrie and Van de Velde birdied the 17th, meaning Lawrie took a 1-shot lead with one hole to play. But the Scotsman birdied the 18th hole, while Leonard and Van de Velde bogeyed, to win the playoff by 3 strokes.
Van de Velde, who played the par-4 18th hole over par in the final round and the playoff, had birdied the hole twice during the first three rounds of the tournament.
He would play for Europe in the Ryder Cup later that year — playing just one match and losing to Davis Love III in singles 6 and 5 as the Americans rallied to victory. Van de Velde won twice on the European Tour, 13 years apart in 1993 and 2006.
At the 2005 Open de France, Van de Velde had a chance for a dramatic home victory. But he, again, found water on the 18th hole and lost to countryman Jean-Francois Remesy in a playoff.