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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Ben who no longer
By Matt Slater
Golf editor

BEN CURTIS FACTFILE
Open champion Ben Curtis
Date of birth: 26 May, 1977
Birthplace: Ostrander, Ohio
Turned pro: 2000
Wins: One, 2003 Open
2004 PGA Tour record: seven of 13 cuts, one top-10
2004 earnings: $419, 495, 102nd in money list
World ranking: 41

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

The American's tie for 13th there may well be the luckiest 13th of all time, as he returned from Kent, England, to Kent, Ohio, $1m richer.

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

In lifting the Claret Jug at Royal St George's, Curtis became the Open's first debutant winner 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 was the biggest shock since, well, Tiger Woods lost his ball with his first shot of the tournament. It was that kind of Open.


As well as a hefty cheque, Curtis, who was making his first ever appearance in a major, earned 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 step-up difficult. Any concerns about a gulf in class were banished at Sandwich.

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.

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)

That a player with minimal experience of top-flight golf (or should that be low-flight 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 10ft putt on 18 to save par after shelling four strokes in six holes was enormously brave.

Curtis' performance was even more impressive when you discover that he managed it without a coach, sports psychologist or full-time caddie. They were soon beating a path to his door.

Cynics may make snide remarks about the Open throwing up another 'lucky' winner, but make no mistake, Curtis earned his place on the Open roll of honour.

Just how comfortably the title "Champion golfer of 2003" has sat on his shoulders is debatable. He hasn't really looked like winning anything since.

But his world ranking has only slipped a few places since his post-Sandwich 361-place leap to 35th in the world - the biggest jump since rankings started in 1986 - and he has shown flashes of his Open form over the last 12 months.

With sport throwing up surprises on an almost weekly basis these days, Curtis will be going to Troon eager to underline his credentials as a fully paid-up member of the major-winners club.





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