Lawrie the Forgotten Champion Returns

By Associated PressJuly 17, 2007, 4:00 pm
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Paul Lawrie squirms in his seat, his eyelids drawing a little tighter, his Scottish brogue fading just a bit.
 
He'll be the first to admit that he's not too comfortable with so much attention. Then again, he sure would like to get a little more acclaim for the way he played on the final day of the 1999 British Open.
 
Seems like a reasonable request.
 
After all, Lawrie had one of the greatest closing rounds in Open history, considering the unforgiving course and nasty weather at Carnoustie. His 10-shot comeback is a major championship record. His next-to-last shot -- a 4-iron to 3 feet that sewed up his playoff victory -- was about as good as it gets.
 
Yep, Lawrie's name is forever on the claret jug. It's just not etched in anyone's mind.
 
He won the Open that Jean Van de Velde lost.
 
'I would have liked to have seen a little bit more of 'Jean Van de Velde blew the Open but, by God, Paul Lawrie shot 67 and won the tournament by two shots by hitting the best shot anyone has ever seen down at the last hole,'' he said, sounding both sad and perturbed. 'But that didn't happen very often.'
 
Even now, eight years removed from his greatest victory, Lawrie is still getting overlooked.
 
This should be a moment of triumph -- the former champ returning to Carnoustie -- but the buildup to the Open provided more replays of Van de Velde standing barefooted in the Barry Burn than Lawrie holding up one of golf's most treasured prizes.
 
And, as if rubbing it in, the pairings came out: Lawrie is teeing off Thursday alongside two-time defending champion Tiger Woods, who always attracts the largest galleries and the most attention.
 
Rest assured, there will be plenty of cheers from the Scottish fans for one of their own when Lawrie is introduced. Then, all eyes will quickly shift to the world's No. 1 player, as Woods tries to become the first golfer in a half-century to win the oldest major three years in a row.
 
'From a personal point of view, I would rather it be low key,' Lawrie said. 'But you want to play with the best players. Obviously, Tiger is by far the best player in the world right now, and I'm looking forward to playing with him for two days. It will be all right.'
 
The 38-year-old Lawrie, who was born and still lives right up the road in Aberdeen, is viewed as one of the most fluky major champions, a guy who benefited from Van de Velde's improbable meltdown on the 72nd hole.
 
Needing only a double-bogey 6 to wrap up the title, the Frenchman hit one errant shot after another on his way to a 7. That's what everyone remembers. They seem to forget that Lawrie closed with a 4-under 67 on a course where the best total score was 6 over. They overlook that he knocked off Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in the playoff, closing with a pair of birdies on two of the toughest finishing holes in the world.
 
At least Lawrie's fellow golfers, especially those who play with him on the European Tour, are quick to give him his due.
 
'From my perspective, it's not overlooked,' England's Justin Rose said. 'I recognize, having been here that year, how incredible 67 was the last day, and to come from 10 shots back. It's a miracle round.'
 
Unfortunately for Lawrie, there have been no more miracles.
 
He's managed only two wins since that magical day along the North Sea, the last coming five long years ago at the Wales Open. He dipped as low as 140th in the European Tour rankings and would have lost his card if not for that '99 title. This season, he's missed the cut in half of his 16 events, still looking for his first top-10 showing. A prominent London bookie listed him as a 200-to-1 long shot this week.
 
Showing the perpetual optimism of a golfer, Lawrie points to subtle signs of improvement.
 
'My game is in reasonable shape,' he insisted. 'Not that I ever talk about making the cut being a good week, but I've made four of the last five cuts, which I hadn't been doing at the start of the year. That's a positive there. There's been some very, very good patches of play the last few weeks.'
 
Lawrie has never gotten to sit down with Van de Velde over a pint of beer or a good meal, two mates reliving the shots that left them forever linked. They weren't close friends before the '99 Open. They aren't close now. There was never any reason to propose such a summit meeting.
 
'We say hello and when we play together, we always have good fun,' Lawrie said. 'I've never been to dinner with him or breakfast with him. So, that conversation has never taken place, and I wouldn't imagine that it ever would.'
 
There's certainly no chance of it happening this week. Van de Velde didn't qualify for this year's Open, and he wouldn't have been able to play anyway because of a mysterious ailment that has plagued him for several months.
 
As for Lawrie, he'd rather talk about playing in front of his two boys, 12-year-old Craig and 8-year-old Michael. They got to pose with the claret jug in '99, but they were too young to have any memories of that seminal event in their daddy's life.
 
'They're both playing golf regularly,' Lawrie said, looking forward to riding home with his boys after the first two rounds. 'They will ask what I hit in '99 and what I hit this time. They've both got a real good idea about golf and the players, so it should really be good.'
 
And, hopefully, they won't ask him about Van de Velde.
 
'What can I do?' Lawrie rued. 'There was a lot written about what Jean did, and rightly so. I didn't read a lot about how well I did the last day. But that's not my job.'
 
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