By the third round the golfers had changed their focus from the impossible course conditions to the possible payoff: £350,000 (about $577,500) and one year's possession of the fabled claret jug. Craig Parry, the diminutive Australian who helped make hash of the U.S. team at last year's Presidents Cup, shot the lowest score of the week, a 67, and moved into a second-place tie with Leonard. But Saturday was most notable for the noncollapse of the second-round leader, Van de Velde, who never let his lead slip to less than two. Van de Velde is a handsome 33-year-old with thick brown hair, a single win on his European tour résumé and an excess of Gallic charm. He speaks English with an Yves Montand purr—the only thing becomes zee only sing—and he seduced the British galleries with an occasional wink and grin. But it was the golf course that sighed and reached for a smoke when he was done on Saturday. Among his memorable strokes: an 80-foot putt for birdie at the 14th, a bunker escape to within a foot to save par at the 17th and a 45-footer that rolled squarely into the hole for another birdie on 18. Van de Velde made the leap from nonentity to entity more dramatically than any golfer since John Daly in the '91 PGA Championship.
Afterward, tactful journalists asked the Disneyland Paris-sponsored pro if he understood that he was destined to choke like a dog on Sunday and disgrace himself in front of France and the world. With refreshing candor, Van de Velde replied, "What can happen? I can lose it!"
Could he ever. But not before performing winningly in his own sweet way. The Frenchman, like Lawrie, got to Carnoustie through local qualifying, and he came in as the 152nd-ranked player in the world. Had Van de Velde won, only Daly, who was No. 168 at the time of his victory at Crooked Stick, would have been a lower-ranked major title winner. "Better players than me have had a commanding lead and lost," Van de Velde conceded on Saturday, almost embarrassed by his five-shot margin.
Tiger Woods, who tied for seventh at Carnoustie for his fifth top 10 finish in his last seven majors, had predicted that even a 10-shot lead wouldn't be safe on such a savage course. Van de Velde proved him right on Sunday, squandering his entire lead by the 8th hole, where Parry caught him under a gray sky in suddenly becalmed weather. But Van de Velde regained the lead when Parry made 7 from deep rough on the 12th. When Van de Velde birdied the 14th, the lead was back to three, and one BBC commentator began humming La Marseillaise.
Only the local ironmongers and publicans were paying attention to Lawrie, a 30-year-old former club pro from just up the road in Aberdeen. Lawrie, ranked 159th in the world coming to Carnoustie, matched Parry's best-of-the-week 67 and got ready for a pint in the hotel behind the 18th green, expecting to be low Scot (usually a minor achievement, because no Scottish-born player had won the Open in Scotland since Tommy Armour did it in 1931 at—where else?—Carnoustie).
Golf historians will argue over what happened to Van de Velde on the 18th tee. Some will blame his caddie, who failed to dissuade him from using the driver. Others will blame Napoleon, who set a bad precedent at Waterloo. Whatever the reason, Van de Velde spent five strokes on his way to the green-side bunker, drawing groans and howls of disbelief from the thousands of fans watching from the grandstands and from the balconies of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel.
"His golfing brain deserted him," said the BBC's Peter Alliss. But amazingly, Van De Velde's heart did not. He hit an explosion shot to six feet and then avoided total humiliation by making the putt, causing the stands to erupt. His nonvictory dance—Van De Velde pumped his arm, waved his visor, and hurled his ball into the stands—was peculiarly poignant and deserves to be reshown for years as an example of spirit in dispiriting times.
The playoff, staged in a steady rain on holes 15 through 18, was tedious and not too artistic, but Lawrie's bogey-bogey-birdie-birdie slog was far better than either Van de Velde or Leonard could do. The Scot avenged many of the week's horrors by sticking his four-iron approach from the 18th fairway to three feet. He then rolled in his putt for a three-shot victory, rewarding the grandstand fans who had cheered and performed the wave for him when he was back on the tee. "Huge thing, to win the Open," he said.
Huge thing to lose it, too, and the '99 Open will be remembered more for the Frenchman's fall than for the Brit's brilliance. The only comparable collapse was that of Sam Snead, who made a triple bogey 8 on the final hole of the 1939 U.S. Open and missed a playoff that was eventually won by Byron Nelson.
Van de Velde was brave and funny in defeat. "Hey, you silly man," he claimed his golf ball had told him from the burn. "Not for you, not today." But he looked forlorn as he walked back to the hotel under his umbrella while his wife, Brigitte, murmured consolations and hugged his waist.