Justin Leonard made a joke, but he wasn't smiling. He had just completed his post-round duties on Sunday night and was about to pose for a picture with his father, Larry, when he glanced indifferently at the runner-up's trophy he was holding. Lifting the small silver bowl like a string of bass, Leonard said, "Well, I guess I don't have to give this back and have a replica made."
The bowl was O.K., but it wasn't the claret jug, which goes to the winner of the British Open and which Leonard had claimed two years earlier at Royal Troon. He couldn't help but realize he had just missed a golden opportunity to win another. His chances drowned in that part of Barry Burn that fronts Carnoustie's 18th green. Thinking he had to make a birdie on the 72nd hole, a desperate Leonard hit a three-wood into the burn and made bogey instead. He had no way of knowing that the leader, Jean Van de Velde, would come apart on that hole and that a par would've won the tournament. Later, in the four-hole playoff with Van de Velde and Paul Lawrie, Leonard again tried to birdie 18, and his last-ditch effort ended up in the last ditch. "I lost the British Open twice in one day" he said, "which is twice as hard to take."
Craig Parry, who has never won a major, knew the feeling. In a position to win, he, too, lost the tournament twice. He had birdied the 10th hole on Sunday to tie Van de Velde and then took the lead when Van de Velde bogeyed 11. But Parry went on safari at the 12th, going from the jungle of rough on the right side of the fairway to the jungle of rough on the left en route to a triple-bogey 7. He could have gotten back into the thick of things at the par-3 16th, where he hit a two-iron to eight feet, but he missed the birdie putt. hen, when Parry double-bogeyed 17, his tournament was over despite a meaningless birdie at 18. "Don't feel for me," he said, his eyes red, his voice faltering. "I finished fourth in the Open. Next time maybe I'll finish it off."
Oddsmakers made Leonard a 40-to-1 shot going in and had Parry at 25-to-1, but the smart money knew they were both well-suited for Carnoustie. The wind, which blew steadily at 20 to 25 mph for the first three days, turned the Open into a shotmaker's test. Leonard, who grew up playing in the wind in Texas, had spent the week before the tournament hitting knockdown shots under tree limbs at his home course, Royal Oaks, in Dallas.
Although Carnoustie was more than 7,300 yards long, length was not an issue because the fairways were too narrow and the rough too severe to hit driver. Parry, unnoticed, had hit more fairways than anyone else at last month's U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
Neither player had done much this season, yet each was in a good frame of mind. A chance encounter with Ben Crenshaw at the recent Western Open helped Leonard. Says Crenshaw, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, "He looked at me and said, 'I've got to quit thinking about making your team and just play golf.' That takes a lot of maturity." Before Carnoustie, Leonard was one of the biggest names missing from the top 10 on the Ryder Cup points list. In '97 he clinched his spot on the team when he won at Troon. His tie for second at Carnoustie moved him from 17th to ninth on the list.
Parry, a 33-year-old Australian, had been looking forward to returning to Carnoustie since the '95 Scottish Open, in which he tied for fourth. He has always enjoyed links golf, which was evident last December when he went 3-1 to help the International team to an easy victory over the U.S. in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. At Carnoustie, his four-under 67 on Saturday equaled the the low round of the tournament and "ranks with the best rounds I've ever played," he said.
Instead of complaining about Carnoustie, like many of the other pros, Leonard and Parry embraced the challenge offered by the course. "There's nothing in the world like good seaside golf," Parry said. "You have to adapt your game to the conditions."
That's precisely what Leonard had done, playing low, frozen ropes through the wind. When the wind died on Sunday, though, he began to struggle, hitting one-iron tee shots off the toe at the 15th and 16th holes, among other misses. "I worked hard all week to keep the ball down, and today I had to hit it up in the air," he said. "Maybe I didn't make the right adjustments in my setup."
There was no questioning Leonard's intensity. Before the playoff was to begin on the 15th tee, Van de Velde made a comment that cracked up the crowd. Leonard was right next to him but had no recollection of the remark.