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Van de Velde Remembered Five Years Later

TROON, Scotland -- A man standing along the 18th fairway at Royal Troon held out a British Open program and a pen as he asked for an autograph. Jean Van de Velde looked at the picture and smiled.
His black trousers are rolled up past his knees. Van de Velde is standing shin-deep in the rising water of Barry Burn at Carnoustie, hands on hips as he searches for a way out of the mess he got himself into on the final hole of a British Open that was his to win.
'It has been five years,' Van de Velde said quietly. 'And five years is a long time.'
People remember what happened like it was yesterday.
Van de Velde, 38, is working for the BBC at the British Open. Dressed in a black rain jacket as he walked Royal Troon with Thomas Levet during the final practice round Wednesday, fans still recognized him as the Frenchman who had a most spectacular collapse at Carnoustie.
'Every time I see a golfer, somebody mentions it,' he said with a smile. 'It never stops.'
Leading by three shots with one hole to play, Van de Velde hit driver off the 18th tee and luckily escaped trouble when it found a thin patch of rough. Instead of playing it safe, he hit 2-iron toward the bleachers, and that's when the frolics of Carnoustie began to unfold.
The ball hit the railing and ricocheted back into deep rough. His next shot went into the burn, and Van de Velde removed his shoes, rolled up his pants and contemplated hitting the ball from the water. Eventually, he dropped into the rough, hit his next shot into the bunker and had to make an 8-foot putt for triple bogey to get into a playoff.
Paul Lawrie wound up beating Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in the four-hole playoff, and Van de Velde's career hasn't been the same.
He had surgery on his right knee two years ago, an old ski injury that never properly healed, and Van de Velde has played only a dozen tournaments the last two years on the European tour. He'll have to go through Q-school when he is healthy enough to play again.
Van de Velde has seen the highlights of his 18th-hole debacle more times than he cares to remember. He was amused to see his picture in this year's program (with a story on British Open playoffs), and to see Carnoustie as part of the television advertisements this week.
Still, he doesn't dwell on what happened five years ago.
'There is not too many of us who have been there,' he said.
And when he says he has 'wonderful memories' of the British Open, and even Carnoustie, he takes pride in having been part of the show -- even if he doesn't have the claret jug to show for it.
'That's what sport is about. It's about emotion, whether good or bad,' Van de Velde said. 'At the end of the day, there has always been one guy coming out to the disappointment of another. It was a good tournament. It was a tough tournament. And everyone suffered along the way.'
Van de Velde first worked for the BBC last year at Royal St. George's, and he was on the 16th hole in the final round when Thomas Bjorn took three shots to get out of a pot bunker, making double bogey to lose his two-shot lead.
Maybe there will be another meltdown at Royal Troon this week. There will be no better person to offer perspective than Van de Velde.
'Hitting into the grandstand, hitting into the water, three-putted from 10 feet, missing from 2 feet ... that's what makes this game special,' Van de Velde said. 'Until you are there with the trophy, it's not over.'
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