July 22, 2018 / 4:00 AM / 8 months ago

Golf: Leaders beware of the Carnoustie curse

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (Reuters) - Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner might be well-advised to avoid reading up on their Carnoustie history as they prepare to battle for the Claret Jug on Sunday.

Jul 21, 2018; Carnoustie, SCT; Jordan Spieth plays from the rough on the 18th hole during the third round of The Open Championship golf tournament at Carnoustie Golf Links. Mandatory Credit: Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The omens are not very good for the American trio who topped Saturday’s leaderboard on nine-under-par.

While five of the past eight Open champions have led after round three, at Carnoustie it has been a poisoned chalice.

Only once in the British Open’s seven previous visits to the Carnoustie links has the man who went to bed in the lead on Saturday night held on for victory on Sunday.

American great Ben Hogan managed it in 1953 having shared the 54-hole lead with Roberto De Vicenzo but generally it has been a case of so near and yet so far.

In 1931 Argentina’s Jose Jurado was reeled in by Scottish-born American Tommy Armour, blowing a three-stroke lead in his final round. Six years later England’s Reg Whitcombe could not resist Henry Cotton who took the title.

American Billy Casper led after rounds two and three in 1968 but a one-stroke advantage going into Sunday proved fragile and Gary Player snatched victory.

It was a similar story for South African Bobby Cole in 1975 as his hopes were blown away on a windy last day and debutant Tom Watson came through to beat Jack Newton in a playoff.

Nothing can compare with 1999, however, when the Open returned to Carnoustie after a 24-year absence.

Frenchman Jean van der Velde began the day five shots clear of the field and still led by three as he walked onto the 18th.

What followed was a horror show as Van der Velde’s second shot ricocheted off a grandstand into rough and his third ended up in Barry Burn. With millions watching on in macabre fascination around the world, he eventually abandoned an attempt to play the ball out of the water, took a penalty drop, and ended with a seven — eventually going into a playoff which was won by Scotland’s Paul Lawrie.

In 2007 Sergio Garcia, reduced to tears by Carnoustie’s rough in 1999, looked set for redemption when he began his final round three ahead of Steve Stricker and six better off than Ireland’s Padraig Harrington. But his lead was whittled away and when his 10-foot putt for victory lipped out on the 18th green he was sent into a playoff won by Harrington.

With a strong westerly wind expected on Sunday, a Carnoustie becalmed on Saturday will bite back and any lead going into the course’s brutish closing stretch will feel precarious.

American Zach Johnson described the last four as “nasty good” on Friday while Colin Montgomerie says the finish is the “most demanding” on the Open rosta, if not anywhere.

“If you can survive them for all four days at just a couple over par then that will be links gold,” Montgomerie said.

“I am telling you nobody will stand on that 18th tee and not think of Jean in 1999.”

Even in the kind conditions of the opening two rounds the final four holes proved an ordeal for Spieth. On Thursday he reached the par-four 15 known as ‘Lucky Slap’ on three under.

Slideshow (2 Images)

When he walked off the 18th he was one over.

No wonder the following day he regarded a single dropped shot on the same stretch as something of a result.

“It’s bound to come down to who plays those treacherous last four holes the best and stays pit of those fairway bunkers,” 1969 winner Tony Jacklin told Reuters.

Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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