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Barry Burn meanders through six of the 18 holes at Carnoustie including, of course, the historic 18th hole. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
Barry Burn meanders through six of the 18 holes at Carnoustie including, of course, the historic 18th hole. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

Zigzagging creek can be a watery grave at Carnoustie

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The murky creek known as Barry Burn might not look too impressive as it snakes its way through the links at Carnoustie. But every fan on hand is mesmerized by the havoc it can cause, and every player fears what it can do to his scorecard.

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) -- As waterways go, this one isn't very imposing.

A murky stream, its tint teetering between gray and brown. Timid flecks of twigs, leaves and unrecognizable vegetation being carried along in its current. An occasional gum wrapper to ruin any hopes of winning that beautification award.

But little Barry Burn can sure cause plenty of havoc for the world's best golfers.

The burn -- creek would be the more recognizable moniker on the opposite side of the Atlantic -- helped sink Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 Open Championship. And it surely will be on the minds of those taking part in this year's championship, which begins Thursday at Carnoustie.

Call it Europe's version of Rae's Creek, only much more menacing and omnipresent.

"It's a very unique hazard," Scott Verplank said Monday, walking off No. 18 after a practice round. "It's one of the things that makes this golf course special."

Clearly, the burn mesmerizes those who come upon it.

During the practice session, a worker leaned over the railing of one of the myriad bridges that provides access from one side to the other, as if in the presence of some sort of holy water. Plenty of fans and marshals replayed Van de Velde's misadventure from '99, giving conflicting accounts of the exact spot where his ball plopped into the water. And one youngster, couldn't have been more than 10, had an innocuous question for his pop as he peered into the ditch.

"Do they have to hit from there," the boy asked, "if they go in the water?"

One golfer considered it, and he'll never live it down.

On the final day of an Open that is now 8 years old, Van de Velde plopped his third shot at No. 18 into the water, creating a photo op for the ages when he shed his shoes and socks, rolled up his pant legs and waded into the stream to consider an improbable rescue.

The quickly rising tide ended that idea, forcing Van de Velde to take a penalty drop on his way to a triple-bogey 7.

After 71 magnificent holes, the Frenchman wasted a three-shot lead with the championship in his grasp, so close he could taste it. Instead of having his name engraved on the claret jug, he lost a playoff to Paul Lawrie and took his place in sports infamy alongside Bill Buckner, Ralph Branca and Roy "Wrong Way" Riegels.

The reputation of Carnoustie and its pesky creek were sealed for the ages.

"It was a great test, a very difficult test," remembered Van de Velde, who failed to qualify for this year's Open as he tries to overcome a mysterious illness. "We knew sooner or later we were going to run into a wall. Unfortunately, it happened on the 72nd hole."

But long before Van de Velde made a mess of that hole, the Barry Burn had already helped Carnoustie morph into "Car-Nasty" -- perhaps the toughest test in the Open rotation, with his howling winds, punishing rough and that doggone creek.

The burn is only about 10 feet wide, but it meanders in a menacing, zigzag pattern through a large chunk of the course, its unforgiving waters brushing up against -- or running straight through -- six of the 18 holes.

"It comes into play on so many different holes, so many different ways," John Rollins said. "You've just got to pay attention to where it is."

It's right there when a golfer steps to the first tee, providing an out-of-bounds line that gently bends away from the left side of the fairway toward the North Sea -- seemingly little threat to today's big hitters.

But that's not the last they'll see of this river wannabe. The players meet up with it again as they begin the back nine, intruding on the 10th fairway about 60 yards short of the green, then cutting back in front of the 11th tee box to provide a further warning of the perilous shots to come.

It curls around again to the left of the par-3 16th, not really in play but ready to swallow any tee shot that might be severely hooked. Then things really get interesting for the last two holes of perhaps the toughest finish of any major championship.

The burn essentially carves out the first chunk of the 17th fairway, snaking around at its nearest point and then bending down the left side before cutting back across about 275 yards away.

Then it's on to 18, where Van de Velde felt the wrath of the chilly waters in '99.

A slice to the right could catch the burn coming or going, as the flow creates a peninsula in the right rough. It does an "S" back through the start of the fairway, flows under some temporary sponsor tents bordering the left side, before darting back in front of the green and disappearing under a grandstand.

"You can see where it is, but you don't really see it," Rollins said bravely. "You know it's there, but as a golfer, you don't like to look at the trouble. You like to look at the fairways, the greens, the flags, things like that. You're not standing out there going, 'Where is this burn? Where do I not want to hit it?"'

But rest assured: The Barry Burn will be on Rollins' mind -- and everyone else's -- when that first shot is struck Thursday.

"It's definitely in play," Rollins conceded, sounding much more reverent. "Absolutely."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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