Article

The Open: A look back at Van de Velde´s Carnoustie calamity

16 juillet 2018 10:00

"What are you doing? What on earth are you doing? Oh, Jean, please. Would somebody kindly go and stop him?"

The words of BBC commentator Peter Alliss at Carnoustie 19 years ago, as Jean van de Velde - in the midst of arguably the most astonishing collapse in the long and illustrious history of The Open - weighed up whether to play his fourth shot on the 18th from the famous Barry Burn.

Van de Velde needed only a double-bogey six on the final hole to claim his first major title.

What followed remains hard to believe and painful to recount almost two decades on.

As The Open returns to Carnoustie this week, Omnisport's Chris Devine - who witnessed Van de Velde's capitulation as a baffled 12-year-old golf addict - looks back on the extraordinary events of 1999.

 

LUCK ON HIS SIDE ... AT FIRST

Van de Velde initially enjoyed good fortune on the par-four 18th, as a wild drive out to the right narrowly avoided water and came to rest on the 17th fairway.

As the Frenchman marched away from the tee, Justin Leonard holed out for a closing bogey up ahead to finish the week six over and level with Paul Lawrie, who had shot a superb 67 after beginning the final day 10 off the pace.

Having been five clear at the start of Sunday, Van de Velde - three over with one to play - therefore knew he could afford to drop two shots at the last and still prevail.

 

FROM BAD TO WORSE

Pressure, of course, can do strange things to people.

A lay-up appeared Van de Velde's best option for his second shot, considering his healthy lead over Leonard and Lawrie, but he instead opted to boldly go for the green in two.

He was not successful.

There were gasps from the crowd as Van de Velde's ball struck a grandstand to the right of the green and ricocheted back into heavy rough.

Remarkably, things were about to get much worse. Van de Velde duly fluffed a pitch into the Barry Burn, a stretch of river guarding the green.

"I don't believe it," said veteran broadcaster Alliss as television footage cut to the leader's shocked wife somehow wearing a smile. "This is so, so, so, so sad."

 

SOMEBODY STOP HIM

If things were not dramatic enough by this stage, there were even more gasps of amazement from stunned spectators as it became clear Van de Velde was giving genuine thought to playing his fourth shot from the water hazard.

Alliss surely spoke for many as he stated: "This really is beyond a joke now. To attempt to hit the ball out of there is pure madness ... this is horrendous stuff."

The sight of Van de Velde removing his shoes and socks before rolling up his trousers and clambering down into the burn was truly remarkable.

Common sense eventually prevailed and he took a penalty drop. Yet having been in total control, he now needed to get up and down to win.

 

NOT DONE YET

When Van de Velde's fifth stroke came up short in a greenside bunker, it seemed he may not even make a play-off.

To his immense credit, he somehow mustered the mental strength to play a bunker shot to around seven feet, before holing the subsequent putt for a seven that ensured he finished level with Leonard and Lawrie.

There were roars from the crowd as Van de Velde knocked in his triple-bogey putt, while Alliss sounded relieved and exhausted in the commentary booth, after pleading for the ball to go in.

 

LAWRIE TAKES HIS CHANCE

Having gone through so much prior to the four-hole play-off, it was perhaps unsurprising to see Van de Velde falter when it got under way.

He double-bogeyed the first extra hole, the 15th, to lose ground on his rivals and ultimately finished three shots off the pace as Lawrie completed an extraordinary comeback.

Sadly, Van de Velde did not come close to winning a major again, but his efforts at Carnoustie will never be forgotten.

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