CARNOUSTIE ’99

To be the Open Champion is a huge honour. It is something I always hoped I would be.

It was also quite hard with more expectation on me, also more press and TV to do. I made mistakes with the Press which was inevitable, but you have to remember that I was pretty much dropped in at the deep end. I was a very good player before the Open, but all of a sudden I was the Open Champion, a big difference.

I was looking forward to the Open all year mainly because it was at Carnoustie. People forget that I had to qualify to get in. I played the last eight holes in two-under par to qualify with a couple of shots to spare. I travelled from home every day and it took just over one hour. During the practice rounds I told myself I needed a lot of patience because the rough was so thick.

There were several top players moaning about the course set-up, my plan was to keep quiet and just play. My attitude that week was perfect, and it needed to be as the course was very severe. Before I started the last round, Adam Hunter and I chatted about the winning score, and he thought it would be five or six over. So what people do not know was that shooting four under par on the Sunday was my best round ever, I really felt that my play on that day deserved a play-off.

They took us to the 15th in buggies. I think Adam noticed I was a little nervous, and when we got to the tee he told me to look at Justin’s (Leonard) and Jean’s faces, as they would be just as nervous as me, if not more so. Van de Velde took forever to arrive, then started to crack jokes with the crowd, and he even tried on a policeman’s hat, and in my opinion it was to hide his nervousness. He then hit his shot wildly left and he had to take a drop which took a ridiculous amount of time.

I was extremely calm just waiting for my turn to play, the noise from the fans was deafening, most of them cheering me on. Jean and I both hit good shots on seventeen, with me slightly nearer and when he rolled his in he gave me a clenched fist, so when I holed mine, I returned the compliment and I was one ahead playing the last.

The crowd was going wild and I felt confident and calm. I hit a really good drive, Jean pulled his left, and Leonard was way back after using a 3 – wood. I went through my normal routine, I picked out the Rolex clock as my line and told myself to make a smooth swing… and it was over. I then knew I was the Open Champion and boy did it feel good.

The ovation I received as I crossed the bridge was amazing, I was left with three putts from four feet to win. After my speech and the interviews which seemed to take forever, I eventually called Marian who was at home with the boys. Both of us were crying on the telephone, and we then had to go into the R&A tent to be paraded in front of hundreds of enthusiastic officials.

Marian rang me while we were driving back home, and said the whole area was crawling with press. The next day was a nightmare, the doorbell rang every two minutes, but luckily my manager at that time cancelled his planned holiday to help with the press conference and ended up as doorman. Adrian Mitchell was brilliant – it would have been horrendous had he not been there.

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