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Paul Lawrie wins the 1999 Open

Paul Lawrie

© SNSpix

Carnoustie has long been recognised as one of Scotland's top golf courses but owing to the lack of infrastructure in the area - few hotels and inadequate access routes - the Open had not been held over the famous Tayside links since 1975. On that occasion Tom Watson won the first of his five Open titles and for many years it looked as if he would be the last “Carnoustie champion”. However with the necessary improvements made, the tournament was to return to what many consider the hardest of all Open venues in 1999.

After years of American domination, European golfers were now winning Major titles with regularity and a “home” success at Carnoustie would come as no surprise. Even so, few were predicting that Aberdonian Paul Lawrie, despite having two European Tour titles to his name, including success in the Qatar Masters earlier in the year, would be the man to claim the title!

Yet after one of the most dramatic endings in the illustrious 139 year history of the Open Lawrie, ranked 159 in the world and a 100-1 outsider when the tournament teed off, was lifting the coveted Claret Jug on the Sunday evening.

The week had not been without it's controversy.

Accusations (mainly, it must be said from disgruntled Americans) that the R&A and Head Green-keeper John Philp had combined to make the course too tough were denied by the governing body, but it's beyond dispute that the course was exceptionally difficult, with landing areas on some fairways down to 15 yards in width.

Few players were able to break, or even match, the par of 71 in the first three rounds, but despite the relatively high scoring, the scene was set for a dramatic last day.

Perhaps even more than “Paul Lawrie”, the name of Jean van de Velde will be associated with the 1999 Open Championship. The Frenchman was a comparative unknown in the golf world, yet as the only man to equal par, he led the tournament after three rounds, with Lawrie trailing some ten strokes back.

Paul Lawrie drives

© SNSpix

The Scotsman was one of the earlier starters on the final day, but quickly moved up the leader board after posting an impressive 67, for a 6 over par total of 290. A good score certainly, but not one that he thought would ever be enough to challenge, especially as Van de Velde's nerve appeared to be holding and he reached the final tee still holding a three stroke lead, knowing that a double bogey six would give him the title.

Meanwhile, American Justin Leonard had recorded a final round 72, and he now joined Lawrie as leader in the clubhouse, on 290.

Out on the course, the drama was beginning to unfold. Despite a loose tee shot, Van de Velde was still in control, but he then put his second into the rough. Now his problems were mounting and the tournament was alive when he hacked his third into the burn.

Spectators and television viewers watched enthralled as he took off his socks and shoes, rolled up his trouser legs and prepared to try and play from the water, before sense prevailed and he took a penalty drop. In that environment, thinking clearly was almost impossible and the Frenchman eventually courageously holed a 7 foot putt - not for the victory that had looked so certain, but to join the Scot and the American in a four hole play-off.

Paul Lawrie kisses the Claret Jug

© SNSpix

The four holes selected were over the closing stretch - 15, 16, 17 and 18, with the first of them proving tough for all three competitors. Lawrie and Leonard had bogey fives, Van de Velde a double-bogey 6.

Pars for all three at the sixteenth left the situation unchanged, but when Lawrie and Van de Velde both made birdies at the 17th, the home favourite was now a shot clear of his rivals.

The pressure was now on Lawrie as he played the final hole, but he showed no sign of the strain as he produced another fine birdie to ensure that he became the first Scotsman to win Open in his native country since Tommy Armour's success at the same venue in 1931.

Written by: Dave Low

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