For 71 holes there was no one to touch him. Jean van der Velde, a journeyman French player on the European Tour, had absorbed everything the brutally-tough Carnoustie could throw at him in the 1999 Open Championship.
He had rebounded from a 75 on the opening day – still good enough for a place inside the top 20 after 18 holes – and repelled all of the big names below him.
This was an Open Championship for the ages; one in which the ability to survive was the winning formula. If the wind didn’t blow you off course, or the deep fairway and greenside bunkers didn’t present you with no other alternative than to splash out sideways, then the hip-high rough would swallow your ball whole and reduce the best golfers in the world to weekend slashers.
The wild fluctuations across the four days were best exemplified by Australia’s Rodney Pampling who led the field after a 71 on day one and then missed the cut.
While all around him toiled – Tiger Woods among them – Van der Velde hung on, and by the time he approached the 72nd tee he had a three-stroke lead and one hand on the Claret Jug. Even a double-bogey six would have secured him the title.
What followed is surely one of the most bizarre chapters in golf history.
It began on the tee, when even a long iron would have got himsafely on the fairway, but instead Van der Velde took a driver and hit his ball onto a peninsula over on the 17th hole.
There was still time to save himself with a smart shot but Van der Velde fanned a two-iron right, the ball struck a grandstand packed with bemused fans and ricocheted into the rough.
Next up, Van der Velde duffed his escape shot into the Barry Burn.
Then, in front of disbelieving spectators behind the ropes and on television, Van der Velde took his shoes and socks off, rolled his trousers up and climbed down into the water and for a few minutes looked like he would play the shot out of the water.
Finally, a spark of common sense prevailed and the Frenchman dropped a stroke, only to find a greenside bunker with his fifth shot.
The bunker shot and eight-foot putt he drained to save a treble bogey and at least earn himself a place in the play-off were the best two shots of the whole charade, even if the clenched fist and roar he greeted the ball dropping into the hole with were a little over-dramatic given what he could, and should, have been celebrating instead.
Paul Lawrie was the greatest beneficiary, building on a marvellous final-round 67 that saw him rise through the field to beat Van der Velde and former champion Justin Leonard by three strokes in the play-off.
The honour went to Lawrie, but the day belonged to Van der Velde.
“It’s sad, it’s very sad … can I go back and play it again, actually? That’d be nice,” he said afterwards.
What drama awaits when the Open returns to Carnoustie this week?