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Lawrie dons brilliant disguise to close crazy Open book; GOLF Golf Correspondent Michael Blair thinks the Carnoustie hero's steely play-off win makes him a worthy member of our Ryder Cup team.

For the record, there were 18 rounds below par in the 128th Open Championship at Carnoustie. There were two 67s and one was from Paul Lawrie, who shot his on the last day to win the tournament.

Eight of those sub-par rounds came on Sunday, the calmest day of the four but when you return a card reading four under par to win the world's toughest tournament on a course like Carnoustie, then no-one should belittle your achievement. No-one does.

Of course, Jean van de Velde should have won. Of course, the Frenchman handed the title to Lawrie. But the Scot still had to make his score and as the books will forever show, he did. And congratulations.

The "wrong" winner, perhaps, but on top of that 67, consider what Lawrie did at the climax to it all. He's level with Justin Leonard and a shot ahead of van de Velde when he plays the third of the four extra holes, the 17th. The

extraordinary Frenchman chucks a birdie at him and Lawrie follows him in. That's guts. That's class. What he does at the last is sheer brilliance.

He has got van de Velde and the tough American by the throat and he could have played the 18th safely. But he rips a four-iron over the dreaded Barry Burn, finishes around three feet from the pin and signs off with a birdie. Now that's something to remember the 1999 Open for.

Lawrie thus goes down as the first qualifier to win since qualifying was introduced, the first Scot for 68 years (Sandy Lyle is from Shrewsbury), he is pounds 350,000 richer and he is in the Ryder Cup team. Those are just the most obvious embellishments.

And as we are all now, I'm sure, fed up with the arguments about the state of the course, let's just forget it until we take a look at what the R & A do to St Andrews next year. No more silliness, no more spitefulness, no more tricks - we hope.

We will also wonder at the prize fund for the millennium contest. Van de Velde may have blown this year's Open, but pounds 185,000 wasn't exactly a negligible consolation. And, just imagine: 35 grand for coming tenth.

That Lawrie should have taken the big money this time was not what the R&A had in mind. And certainly not Jean van de Velde. But what's wrong with an outsider winning? Why not a bit of romance.

Lawrie held a Press conference in his home town of Aberdeen yesterday which was out of range for some of us. The one he gave on Sunday was to celebrate his 67; it was not as a potential winner because he had been ten behind when the last round began. Which is the stuff of legends. Ten behind and he beat one of the finest fields ever assembled. Without a single double-bogey over four days.

He had won little at the top level before Carnoustie: just the Catalonia Open three years ago and the Qatar Masters in February. He was becoming miffed at constant reminders of how he was under-achieving. "But I work hard at my game," he insisted. "Perhaps I don't get as much out of it as I should."

He has now. And he is able to say: "I feel my career is just starting."

And given what he did achieve on Sunday, given the steel in his game, his putting touch and his ability to make birdies under pressure, we can hope that our Ryder Cup team will be significantly strengthened when they get to Brookline in September.

The 18th, incidentally, was the seventh-hardest hole of the tournament. But Wolverhampton's Peter Baker birdied it twice, as did van de Velde and Brian Watts. It was officially valued at 4.45. Toughest was the ninth and as this is a 474-yard par-four, it is hardly surprising. It played at 4.57 and the 12th, an even longer par-four, was next, along with the 459-yard 17th.

Sorry, I wasn't going to mention this again but just imagine: seven par fours measuring more than 450 yards and they still grow rough that you could lose footballs in.

More statistics: David Howell had the most twos (three), Jim Furyk the most threes (six), Davis Love the most birdies (seven) and Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Angel Cabrera shared the most pars (15). Ian Woosnam had the most consecutive fours (eleven).
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Title Annotation:National
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 20, 1999
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