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Turn of fortunes for Jean Van de Velde

It has been a long time coming but lady luck finally became reacquainted with Jean Van de Velde when he landed the Madeira Island Open title.

The Frenchman has experienced more than his fair share of trials and tribulations since he tossed away the chance to win the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie.

Injury problems became so bad that he once thought about giving up golf but on Sunday the 39-year-old beat Briton Lee Slattery by one stroke to claim his second European Tour title.

However, as if to underline that thrills and spills are always in close proximity to Van de Velde, the Frenchman carded a double-bogey six at the last to take the trophy by the skin of his teeth.

Four strokes clear standing on the 72nd tee, he launched a wayward drive before finding a grassy hollow with his second shot.

Van de Velde then fluffed his pitch short of the green before hitting 15 feet past the hole.

Two putts to finish were enough for the Frenchman, who said he always felt he had enough in hand.

"I was comfortable at the last and I just had to walk back up the hill but I made the walk interesting," Van de Velde told reporters.

"I found the nastiest patch of grass on the whole course and I was lucky to get it forward. But if I can't take three from 10 yards off the green, there are going to be some questions asked.

"I knew a six was going to win it. I wasn't nervous.

"What happened many years ago (at Carnoustie) was a freaky circumstance."

Van de Velde's Carnoustie calamity remains vivid, the Frenchman splashing around barefoot in the Barry Burn in front of the last green, triple-bogeying the hole and losing the title in a playoff to Briton Paul Lawrie.

"I never have sour memories of the hole," he said last year. "The 1999 Open was the best time of my life."

In a chilling case of deja vu, Van de Velde lost out to compatriot Jean-Francois Remesy in a playoff at the 2005 French Open.

The 1993 Rome Masters champion found trouble with his second shot at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin.

He overhit the green to end up in the reeds, had to take a penalty drop and his victory hopes effectively ended when his fourth stroke became plugged in a greenside bunker. Unable to get up and down, he finished with a triple-bogey seven.

A tearful Van de Velde, playing in the tournament on a sponsor's invitation after a nightmare three years of injury, said: "What a day, what a week.

"I haven't been in any position like this in the last three years and haven't been able to play golf the last two so at least I am playing well."

The former Ryder Cup player thought about quitting after injuring his knee while skiing.

Van de Velde needed an operation in 2003 during a three-year period in which he played only a handful of events.

His runner-up finish at the French Open helped him regain his tour card and he earned a further two-year exemption after his victory on Sunday.

"Last year I was blessed to get my card back and this year I'm blessed to have it for another two years," said Van de Velde.

"It gives me a lot of oxygen to breathe and I can now take weeks off if my knee gives me too much trouble."

March 27, 2006

 




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