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One thing about the 1999 Open Championship is certain: Paul Lawrie was forever linked to the Claret Jug. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
One thing about the 1999 Open Championship is certain: Paul Lawrie was forever linked to the Claret Jug. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Debate over merits of Lawrie's 1999 win still rages on

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So which is it? Did Paul Lawrie grab the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999? Or did Jean Van de Velde just gift-wrap the Claret Jug and hand it to to him? The arguments on both sides are as strong as the memories of that amazing ending.

By T.J. Auclair, PGATOUR.com Interactive Producer

Ah, Carnoustie. Paul Lawrie hoisted the coveted Claret Jug when he won the Open Championship -- golf's oldest major -- in 1999 at Carnoustie, just a few wee miles from his birthplace of Aberdeen. In so doing, Lawrie became the first Scotsman to win the Open since Sandy Lyle in 1985 at Royal St. George's, and the first to win on Scottish soil since James Braid at St. Andrews in 1910.

While more than a few pints were downed by thousands of celebrating Scots after Lawrie's improbable, unlikely, unimaginable, inconceivable, unthinkable win, the question needs to be asked: Did Lawrie go out and grab it? Or, was the Claret Jug gift-wrapped and handed to him in the kindest gesture by the French since presenting the United States with the Statute of Liberty in 1886?

Many -- aside from the Lawrie family -- may forget that he overcame a mammoth 10-shot deficit in the final round, before defeating 1997 Open champ Justin Leonard and Frenchman Jean Van de Velde in a four-hole playoff.

While Leonard is undoubtedly the forgotten man in that three-way playoff, who could possibly forget Van de Velde? Teeing it up on the 72nd hole with a seemingly comfortable three-shot lead and on the verge of becoming just the second Frenchman ever to win a major, joining Arnaud Massy at Royal Liverpool in 1907, Van de Velde suddenly lost it -- figuratively, literally and shockingly. He single-handedly turned golf's oldest and arguably most cherished tournament into a game of hot potato.

On a final hole that featured more twists than a season-finale episode of the hit show "24," Van de Velde needed just a lousy double-bogey 6 to secure the win. Some figured Carnoustie deserved a fluke-winner considering how tricked up the course was that week.

Regardless, no one deserves what happened to Van de Velde. The man seemingly went insane in front of a worldwide audience. A questionable decision to hit driver from the 18th tee sent the poor guy into the right, thigh-high rough, setting off a comedy of errors that included a trip into the creek that fronts the green called Barry Burn and was capped off by -- of all things -- a drained knee-knocker from 7 feet for a triple-bogey 7 to earn a spot in the playoff.

Take that, Jack Bauer.

The jury is still deliberating over whether or not anyone knows what happened in the playoff, other than the fact that Lawrie pulled off the biggest heist since Bonnie and Clyde, because those who witnessed the 72nd hole are all still frozen in shock.

While Van de Velde wasn't the champion, he became the poster boy for showing grace in defeat. Before fading into relative obscurity, Van de Velde made it to another playoff -- the 2000 Reno-Tahoe Open -- where he lost to Scott Verplank on the fourth extra hole. He then won for the second time on the European Tour at the 2006 Madeira Island Open, his first title since the 1993 Roma Masters, and has been troubled with injuries since.

But what has become of Lawrie? Surely he'll be the hero when he returns to Carnoustie this time around, but he hasn't exactly been setting the links ablaze since that historic, mind-boggling victory in 1999.

Fair or not, the fact of the matter is it could be argued that Lawrie's tremendous rally was nothing more than a brilliant round of golf on a difficult course with the rest falling into his lap. After all, he didn't make up those 10 shots by firing a Johnny Miller-like final-round 63.

Nope. Lawrie carded a 4-under-par 67 in that final round at Carnoustie. He sat around, watched Van de Velde's debacle, went to a playoff and the next thing he knew he was living his dream -- just probably not in the fashion he had dreamt it up. But beggars can't be choosers and a win is a win.

Since the defining moment along the River Tay on the East Coast of Scotland, Lawrie has recorded two victories on the European Tour -- the 2001 Dunhill Links Championship and the 2002 Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open. His best finish on the PGA TOUR was a tie for fifth in the 2000 World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.

And what about the majors? In the 20 that he's played since Carnoustie, Lawrie has missed the cut 12 times and his highest finish was a tie for 15th at the Masters in 2003.

While a repeat win at Carnoustie for the struggling Lawrie might be a stretch, by all means, don't rule it out. As was proven on that blustery, gray Sunday in 1999, anything can happen in this unpredictable game.

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