Rough finish is behind him, Van de Velde says

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CARNOUSTIE, Scotland - His presence is ubiquitous here. Even without him in the field, the ghost of Jean Van De Velde still looms over the 18th hole at Carnoustie Golf Links.

Jean Van de Velde: The Frenchman will not be playing at Carnoustie, the site of his infamous British Open collapse eight years ago.  AP / File
AP / File
Jean Van de Velde: The Frenchman will not be playing at Carnoustie, the site of his infamous British Open collapse eight years ago.

"Every player who comes through is talking about Van De Velde," said the marshals working the ropes near the bridge across the Barry Burn on Monday.

Van De Velde himself, however, maintains that his not haunted by the triple-bogey eight years ago that cost him a three-shot lead and the claret jug.

"I have no regrets today," he said Monday via telephone from France to the media gathered for the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie.

His only concession in hindsight is that he would have hit a different third shot from the thick rough. His attempt to go from the green found the water instead.

Perhaps it's best that Van De Velde is not here. He would not recognize the wee little corner of the course that did him in. There is nothing but wispy rough a 20-handicapper could easily make a decent shot out of in the gnarly place that ruined his major moment.

"If the rough was like it is now, Jean Van De Velde would be the Open champion," said Charles Howell of the almost benign conditions around the Barry Burn near the 18th green.

Even so, the finest golfers in the world seemed as if they were preparing to avoid any Van De Veldian disasters of their own on what my be the toughest closing stretch of holes in golf. The 18th hole approach presents such stunning difficulty that nobody wants to repeat the failure.

Three-time major winner Vijay Singh intentionally practiced hitting his approach shot into the middle of the bleachers, where a player would get free relief. World No. 1 Tiger Woods practiced both laying up and hitting for the greenside bunker to protect a reasonable opportunity to make bogey.

"You know, people say you learn from experiences," Van De Velde said. "That's life. It will be slightly different for the next player to play that shot."

Van De Velde, 41, did not attempt to qualify for the British Open because of ongoing health issues.

He spent four hours Monday morning undergoing medical tests at hospital in Biarritz, France. He's been diagnosed with a variation of mononucleosis that had him sleeping up to 16 hours a day for a spell the last few months. But it is some kind of digestive system problem and frequent vomiting that puzzled his doctors and sent him to the bench until further notice.

"The physical pain was too much," he said. "I will come back when I feel that I can compete again without thinking about what's going to happen."

Seeing what other people in the hospital with him were coping with Monday further established his perspective.

"What right do I have to be complaining?" he said.

The Frenchman had several offers to do television analyst work this week but chose to stay home and focus on figuring out his health problems. Despite his penchant for paying little attention to golf when he's not playing himself, Van De Velde knows what he will be doing the rest of this week.

"Starting Thursday morning I will sit in front of the TV and watch," he said. "I never watch golf on TV, but this is one I'm definitely going to look at. I'm very sad that I'm not there. I'm very sad that I'm not competing, but I want to look at it and put it behind."

Doug Sanders - who missed a 30-inch putt on the final hole at St. Andrews in 1970 and subsequently lost in an 18-hole playoff to Jack Nicklaus the next day - has often said that he can't go 10 minutes without thinking about his missed opportunity.

That might be because Sanders often insists on wearing the same style of orange trousers that he wore in that infamous moment.

Van De Velde prefers to move forward.

"I guess it's a difference of personality," Van De Velde said. "To some people it means everything. Golf is my passion, from the beginning. ... And at the same time it's not all my life. It's not what makes Jean Van De Velde. It's part of me, but not me."

That said, Van De Velde admitted that a day rarely goes by without someone reminding him of is experience at Carnoustie in 1999.

"It happens every day because a lot of people remember it and feel like they want to talk about it," he said. "But sometimes it doesn't happen at all, thank God. It's only a golf hole. It's only a golf tournament."

Still, as Jean Van De Velde sees it, his sentence has reached nearly half its term.

"I think it's going to last a good 15 to 20 years before people stop asking me questions," he said. "There's probably another 12 to go."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com


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