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Jean van de Velde back in the picture

He no longer plays the European Tour and he's ranked 1,175th in the world but Jean van de Velde has not been forgotten, nor will he be for a long, long time.

Van de Velde, 44 now, played in the French Open recently on a sponsor's exemption and finished 69th after opening with a 66. This week, he's a commentator for BBC at the British Open.

It is for the British Open that he will be remembered. It was there that he had what some romantics would call his "Tin Cup" moment – keep swinging against all odds until you get it right, no matter what the cost – or what others would call a train wreck.

It was at the British Open, on the wicked reaches of Carnoustie in 1999, that he thrashed away a clear shot at the championship on the 72nd hole in such a reckless manner a European Tour writer, watching the defiant Van de Velde repeatedly impale himself on his own sword, "He's too French. He thinks he's D'Artagnan."

That may be as apt and colorful a commentary as any I've ever heard in golf.

People said then and still say today that what Van de Velde did was stupid, and it was, but there was something beautiful about it as well. He didn't want to play safe and tiptoe in to the championship. Better to risk it all boldly, heroically. He was French. He was D'Artagnan.

I regret that he eventually lost in a playoff to the colorless and unsung Paul Lawrie but I cherish the memory of Van de Velde, the handsome Frenchman, playing out his sad but darkly glorious drama.

All he needed on that 72nd hole, a par 4 with water in front of the green, was a double bogey 6 to claim the Claret Jug.

He made a 7.

He hit his drive into rough. The sensible play would have been a wedge down near the Barry Burn, then another wedge onto the green, which would have given him the luxury of three-putting and still winning.

Ah, but "The ball was laying so good, I took my 2-iron," he said.

The shot squirted to the right, hit a flange on the spectator bleachers – no bigger than a match book—bounced backward, hit a rock and fell back behind the burn again. In the rough.

Van de Velde's next shot dropped into the water. D'Artagnan took off his shoes, rolled up his pants and waded in, with the idea of trying to play it out. But the ball kept sinking deeper as he stood over it. He decided – reluctantly, no doubt – to take a drop.

That one, he pitched into a bunker. With his sixth shot, he blasted out to within six feet of the cup and he finally holed that to tie Lawrie and Justin Leonard. In the three-hole playoff, Lawrie won by three shots.

"Maybe it (the 72nd) was too much for me," said Van de Velde. "Maybe I should have laid up. The ball was laying so wellNext time, I hit a wedge, and you all forgive me?"