So Tom Watson -- who was winning major golf championships when I was in junior high and high school and "Fruit Stripe Gum" pants were all the rage on the links -- is leading the British Open with 18 holes to play. If he manages to pull it off, it would definitely be one of the all-time great stories in sports.
Ten years ago today, a very different sort of story was written in the remote hills and dales of Scotland. This is the tenth anniversary of the worst individual (as opposed to team) collapse I've ever personally witnessed in sports, that of the French golfer Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 British Open in Carnoustie. The completely obscure Van de Velde had come from out of nowhere to lead the tournament by three shots with one hole to play. That hole, however, was one of the hardest holes on an exceptionally difficult course that had been made even rougher by what can only be described as a sadistic groundskeeper. Here is the ABC broadcast of what transpired (it has been edited; Van de Velde originally took almost half an hour to finish):
In the second sequence, listen to the comments by Curtis Strange beginning at around 1:20. You NEVER hear comments like that in a typical golf broadcast. They were so sharp that, according to author Curt Sampson in his excellent book about the '99 Open, Strange had to get an OK from the producer at ABC before making them. Granted, Van de Velde was unlucky on where that second shot bounced and landed, but the silliness in the water is still comical today, and it's no surprise that Strange got (pun intended) teed off.
To no one's real surprise, Van de Velde lost in the playoff. Though he was given high marks by press and fans for the grace with which he took his defeat, he has not been heard from since.
I certainly hope that Watson can avoid such a fate tomorrow and defy the pull of time's gravity for one more day. If he falls apart, however, it's unlikely to be in so extravagantly melodramatic a fashion as this.