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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 July, 2003, 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK
Ben who?
By Matthew Slater
BBC Sport at the Open

BEN CURTIS FACTFILE
Open champion Ben Curtis
Date of birth: 26 May, 1977
Birthplace: Ostrander, Ohio
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 175 pounds
Home: Kent, Ohio
Turned professional: 2000
PGA Tour wins: 0
2003 PGA Tour record:
9 of 14 cuts
2003 earnings
(prior to Open):

$195,689, 142nd in money list
Best finish:
T13 at Western Open
World ranking: 386

Ben Curtis, the most unlikely Open champion of all time, only scraped into golf's most famous event by recording his best ever result as a pro at the Western Open a fortnight ago.

The 26-year-old American's tie for 13th there may well be the luckiest 13th of all time, as he is now returning from Kent, England, to Kent, Ohio, $1m richer.

It is perhaps unfair to label the only player still under par on Sunday as lucky - for while he certainly benefited from Thomas Bjorn's misfortune, there was nothing lucky at all about his astonishingly composed display this week.

In lifting the Claret Jug at Royal St George's on Sunday, Curtis became the first debutant winner at the Open since Tom Watson in 1975.

But it is there that the golfing comparisons with Watson must end.

Yes, they are both humble and softly-spoken men from America's Midwest, but Watson's victory at Carnoustie was not necessarily a surprise.

Curtis' win is the biggest shock since, well, Tiger Woods lost his ball with his first shot of the tournament. It was that kind of Open.


Curtis, who was making his first ever appearance in a major, can look forward to a five-year exemption to play in golf's biggest events and an invite to the Open every year until his 65th birthday.

Curtis was born in Ostrander, Ohio - near Columbus where Jack Nicklaus grew up - and like many pro golfers he was introduced to the sport at an early age.

Fortunate enough to live a lob wedge away from the putting green of a golf course his grandfather had built, Curtis started playing at three and by high school he was developing into a future star.

His progress continued at college, and after leaving Kent State University in 1999 his amateur career blossomed. A semi-finalist at the 2000 US Amateur Open, he went on to help the US to win the Amateur World Team competition in Germany.

That feat, and a 17-stroke victory in the Ohio Amateur, his third in that event, led to Curtis being named the world's top ranked amateur by Golfweek magazine.

But having turned pro in 2000, Curtis found the immediate step up difficult to accomplish.

He need not worry about any gulf in class anymore.

Just how comfortably the title 'Champion golfer of 2003' will sit on his shoulders remains to be seen, but his achievement in taming the stiffest test set by the R&A in years cannot be underestimated.

CURTIS AT SANDWICH
Score: 283 (72, 72, 70, 69), -1
Fairways hit:
57.1% (average for field 45.8%)
Greens in regulation:
62.5% (55.9%)
Putts per hole: 1.67 (1.74)
Driving distance:
303.8 (294.9)

While the carnage at Carnoustie in 1999 was contrived, the challenge at Royal St George's was pure links golf: hard-baked greens, cross winds, undulating fairways and punishing rough.

That a player with minimal experience of top-flight golf, let alone links golf, should be the one to show the requisite patience and imagination to record a one-under-par 283 is remarkable.

His final-round 69 was a classic example of getting your scoring in early - he was six-under for the day after 11 - and limiting the damage coming home.

And the 10-foot putt on 18 to save par after shelling four strokes in six holes was enormously brave.

Curtis' performance is even more impressive when you discover that he has managed it without a coach, sports psychologist or full-time caddie. They will be beating a path to his door after this.

Cynics may make snide remarks about the Open throwing up another 'lucky' winner, but make no mistake, Curtis earned his right to be in a position to win.





Links to more The Open 2003 stories


 

WATCH AND LISTEN
Open champion Ben Curtis
"I set out there to win"


Watch Curtis lift the Open trophy




THE OPEN 2003

CURTIS CLINCHES CLARET JUG

SANDWICH REVIEW

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