Jean Van De Velde may have lost the British Open in one of the greatest collapses in golf history today, but he definitely has not lost his sense of humor or his sense of perspective.

Following his defeat in a four-hole playoff with Justin Leonard and eventual champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland, Van De Velde smiled and said, "We're going to go through everything except 18, okay? . . . I made plenty of friends here because a Scottish man won. That's something good."

But something dreadful happened to the sweet-tempered Frenchman when he made a triple-bogey 7 at the 72nd hole at Carnoustie, when all he needed for his first major championship was a double bogey or better.

He had taken a five-shot lead into the final round, lost it all after 11 holes, got it back and took a three-shot lead into the final hole. Then he threw it all away with some questionable shot and club selections that ultimately cost him the claret jug.

Van De Velde forever will be questioned about his decision to use a 2-iron from the rough on his second shot instead of simply hacking his ball back toward the fairway and playing for bogey -- even double bogey -- to clinch only the second victory of his 11-year career.

Van De Velde insisted that he never hesitated on that 2-iron shot, which crashed into the grandstand, bounced off the rock wall edging the Barry Burn, found deep rough and led to a third shot that landed in the burn. After he took a drop, his fifth shot went into a greenside bunker, and he needed a dicey six-foot putt just to save the triple bogey and limp into the playoff.

"I don't think there are too many players with that lie who wouldn't have hit a 2-iron," Van De Velde said. "It's sad, it's very sad. Can I go play it again? Going to a 2-iron was not that impossible. I went for it. There was plenty of room for it, but I pushed it a little, that is all. Because of this experience, maybe I would hit a wedge next time, but I don't think so."

Davis Love III, who was pulling hard for his friend Leonard to win the tournament, was only half-joking in replying "9-iron, 9-iron, 9-iron" when asked how Van De Velde should have played the 72nd hole. Love called the triple bogey "the most disastrous thing I've ever seen in sports."

Van De Velde had started badly today, with bogeys on two of his first three holes, then made bogeys on two of his first three back-nine holes. But his competitors were either collapsing or unable to make a charge.

His playing partner, Australian Craig Parry, even had taken a brief one-shot lead through 11 holes until his own disastrous triple bogey at the 383-yard 12th. Argentina's Angel Carbrera, eight back at the start of play, shot 70 and tied for fourth with Parry. But he couldn't get close enough to give himself many birdie chances, the same fate that befell sixth-place finisher Greg Norman (72 -- 293).

Tiger Woods was 7 over through 11 holes but couldn't make his putts. He lipped out twice and missed at least three birdie putts by an inch before finishing with a 74 and 10-over 294 that left him tied for seventh with Love and David Frost.

Still, Van De Velde said he had no regrets about anything that happened to him this past week.

"I would say I have played 71 holes very well. I kept my composure and my head. I didn't need to go for glory that wasn't even glory [the 2-iron shot]. That wasn't something absolutely mad I was trying to do. It just came out to be a nightmare.

"It's like if I would have been in the middle of the fairway with all of you standing behind the green. Would you have understood if I had pulled out a wedge? Would you have thought, `What the hell is he doing?'

"A lot of good things happened this week. I proved I could be there, and that's a positive thing. The only guy it will hurt is myself and the people around me. It's a game, it's just a game. . . . It's not life and death. It's your name on a trophy. At the end of the day, 200 years from now, who will even remember?"

As Van De Velde stepped out of the press tent and into the rain to answer questions under an umbrella for the television cameras, his wife, Brigitte, was not far away. She heard him talk about life going on, and she smiled and said she was "so proud" of her husband and how he was handling this crushing defeat.

"I am quite happy with what he did," she said. "He went for it on every shot, maybe too much." On the 18th hole of regulation, "I was just watching. I was very nervous, of course. But I know it's not over. Anything can happen. He had to play that way -- he had played that way all week. Perhaps he went too far.

"C'est la vie."

CAPTION: Jean Van De Velde wades into trouble on 18th hole at British Open. Despite collapse, the Frenchman kept cool. "It's a game, it's just a game," he said.