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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 July, 2003, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
Curtis steals Sandwich show
By Matthew Slater
BBC Sport at the Open

Open winner Ben Curtis
How fitting that the most open Open in living memory should produce the most unlikely champion.

It is possible to write that now, as heads clear here after the most dramatic of final days.

But midway through Sunday afternoon a victory for the unheralded Ben Curtis was the last thing many in the press tent, and the galleries, wanted.

A shock win for a rookie ranked 396th in the world seemed to only suit the bookies.

It didn't seem in keeping with what had been four days of sparkling golf from the world's best golfers on the world's best seaside links.

And I'm not just writing this because I wrote the following on Saturday: "With no disrespect intended to Curtis, the other four players on one over par are rightly considered to be more realistic winners come Sunday evening."

I stand by that. Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Kenny Perry and Vijay Singh were more realistic winners of the 132nd Open than a 26-year-old few outside his native Ohio had ever heard of.

And that's not even mentioning the men ahead of Curtis going into the final round, Thomas Bjorn and Davis Love.

But since when has sport been realistic?

The Sandwich scoreboard congratulates the surprise winner
The Sandwich scoreboard congratulates the surprise winner

We expected a great champion to emerge from an epic clash of the world's best players, and that's what we got. It's just not the one we expected.

Cynics may make snide remarks about the Open throwing up another 'lucky' winner, but Curtis earned his right to be in a position to win when more illustrious names were faltering.

The numbers tell their own story. Curtis was the only player under par on Sunday for the simple reason that he found fairways, hit greens in regulation, putted well and took birdies when the course offered them.

But as well as Curtis played - and it cannot be understated just how well he did on this diabolically hard course - it must be said there were others that could, and perhaps should, have won had the fates been smiling in their direction.

The chief among these is Bjorn. His stunning meltdown in a greenside bunker at 16 is the kind of experience that could scar a man for life.

Three shots clear with four to play, the 31-year-old Dane, who had come back from a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on Thursday, took three swipes to get out of the bunker and carded a calamitous double bogey.

Nick Faldo
Nick Faldo celebrates his return to form on the 18th

Stunned, the hitherto unflappable Bjorn bogeyed the 17th to be left needing a birdie at the last to force a play-off against a man who had just sent the press corps into a scurry of fact-finding industry.

While Curtis diligently, and disbelievingly, prepared himself on the practice range for a four-hole shootout, Bjorn missed his putt and the Open had its first debutant winner since Tom Watson in 1975.

Bjorn will undoubtedly be plagued by nightmares about his third second place finish at a Major.

But what of the others?

Ernie Els defended his title with dignity but little luck, and he never played quite well enough to look like becoming the first repeat champion since Watson in 1983.

Much the same can be said of Woods, who hovered around the lead all weekend without ever really convincing anybody that he had brought his A game to Kent.

The much hoped-for challenge from England's young generation of talented players never materialised, but an old stager did briefly threaten to win the Claret Jug for the host nation.

For a thrilling nine-hole stretch in the middle of his fourth round, Nick Faldo attracted the biggest gallery and the loudest cheers at Sandwich all week.

A remarkable seventh Major seemed in his grasp after the 46-year-old Englishman had moved to four under for his round and even par for the tournament.

That dream finale wasn't to be, though Sandwich was left with another.

Links to more The Open 2003 stories


Open champion Ben Curtis
"I set out there to win"

Curtis' caddie Andy Sutton
"It was incredible, absolutely incredible"






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