Curtis pulls major surprise by capturing British Open
By Doug Ferguson
SANDWICH, England Hardly anyone knew Ben Curtis before the British Open.
The Claret Jug became the Curtis Cup yesterday when a little-known rookie from Ohio Ben Curtis won the 132nd British Open by one stroke over a star-studded field.
Strangely, the answer now is British Open champion.
Not on the most unpredictable links in golf. Not after one of the wackiest weeks in the game's oldest championship. Not even with Tiger Woods and an All-Star cast in position to restore order.
"Many people are probably saying, 'Well, he doesn't really belong there,' " Curtis said. "But I know I do, so that's all that matters."
He earned his spot in golfing lore by closing with a 2-under 69, leaving him the only player to break par at 283.
He got plenty of help from Thomas Bjorn, who took three shots to escape a pot bunker on No. 16, dropped four shots on the final four holes and finished as the hard-luck runner-up with Vijay Singh.
"Major championships are sometimes won out of the blue," Bjorn said. "This is one 'won out of the blue' for sure."
The Open took a zany turn right from the start when Woods, the world's most watched player, lost his opening tee shot in the rough.
It ended with a player hardly anyone knew holding the Claret Jug.
Bjorn still had a chance to force a playoff with a birdie chip from just short of the 18th green. When the ball turned away, caddie Andy Sutton turned to Curtis on the practice range and said, "Ben, you're the Open champion."
The words might not have sounded so strange had he been talking to another Ben, say Hogan.
Curtis is believed to be the first player since Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open to win a major championship in his first try.
"I came in here this week just trying to play the best I could, hopefully make the cut and compete on the weekend," he said. "Obviously, I did that and went out there and probably played the best weekend of my life."
The final stroke was an 8-foot par putt on the 18th, and only after Curtis walked off the green did he realize that Bjorn was in trouble three groups behind.
All he could do was wait to see if anyone could match him.
They all wilted.
Woods couldn't find the fairway down the stretch and let a perfect opportunity to capture his ninth major title slip away.
"It's going to work out for somebody," Woods said. "You've got to have things go your way in order for you to win."
Singh didn't make enough putts. Davis Love III was doomed by a bad start.
That left the oldest prize in golf to a guy who never had so much as a top 10 finish on the PGA Tour.
His best was two weeks ago at the Western Open, a tie for 13th that allowed him to qualify for his first major championship.
When Curtis started the final round just two shots out of the lead, no one gave him a chance, not against this lineup.
In the end, no one played better on the canted, lunarlike links of Royal St. George's.
"I don't know anything about Ben," Love said. "But when the golf course plays like this, and when it's that fine a line between a good shot and a bad shot, these things can happen."
This one will give hope to underdogs around the world.
Bjorn's sloppy finish, especially the bunker shots on No. 16, dropped him to a 72 and into a tie for second with Singh at even-par 284.
Another stroke back was Woods, who bogeyed two of his final four holes for a 71, and Love, who missed two crucial birdie putts down the stretch for a 72.
Until this week, Curtis was mostly known for being a two-time Ohio State Amateur champion.
He earned more than $1.1 million. He has his PGA Tour card for the next five years, is exempt to the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship for five years and can play the British Open until he is 65.
"Now, when my name is up on the scoreboard, I will feel like I belong," Curtis said. "This is the grandest tournament of all. I'm very fortunate to be a winner with all the great names on that trophy Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones."