Tue, Jul 22, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Rookie takes British Open

MAJOR VICTORY Newcomer Ben Curtis earned his spot in golfing lore by closing with a 2-under 69, leaving him as the only player to break par with a 1-under 283

AP , SANDWICH, ENGLAND

Ben Curtis of the US celebrates after winning the British Open golf championship at Royal St. George's golf course in Sandwich, England, on Sunday3. Curtis won the event after shooting a final round 69 for a 1-under par four round total of 283.

PHOTO: AP

Ben Curtis was hitting a wedge on the practice range at Royal St. George's when the caddie he had known all of a week delivered the news. "Ben, you're the Open champion."

The most unpredictable links in golf. A wacky week at the game's oldest championship. And, finally, the unlikeliest of major winners: a PGA Tour rookie ranked No. 396 in the world.

Even Andrew Sutton, the caddie Curtis hired last Sunday to provide some local knowledge, had never heard of his new boss.

Told Ben Curtis was looking for a caddie, Sutton asked, "Ben who?"

Golf's newest major champion acknowledged the obvious.

"I'm in great company," Curtis said. "Right now, many people are probably saying, `Well, he really doesn't belong there.' But I know I do."

Not even Tiger Woods and an All-Star cast of challengers could sort out the humps and hollows along Sandwich Bay any better.

Curtis earned his spot in golfing lore by closing with a 2-under 69, leaving him the only player to break par at 1-under 283.

He got plenty of help from Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, who took three shots to escape a pot bunker, dropped four shots on the final four holes and finished as the hard-luck runner-up with Fiji's Vijay Singh.

"It is going to be a tough few days,'' Bjorn said. ``But it's only a game."

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 prize, his name engraved alongside the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan.

"Obviously, Ben is a fantastic golfer," said Sutton, his caddie for the week. "But what impressed me the most is how laid-back he is."

Curtis, who spent the last two years on the Hooters Tour and qualified for the British with a 13th-place finish in the Western Open, was just two strokes behind coming into the final round, but hardly anyone gave him a chance to win. Not against a lineup like this: Woods, Bjorn, Davis Love III, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Kenny Perry.

But hardly anything went according to plan at this tournament:

-- Woods opened with a triple bogey when two dozen marshals and 2,000 fans couldn't figure out where his ball was hiding.

-- Bjorn was penalized two strokes Thursday for slamming his club into a bunker after failing to get out -- a no-no when the ball is still in the sand.

-- Love hit a tee shot that was going out of bounds Friday until it ricocheted off a white boundary stake only 3 inches wide.

-- Local hero Mark Roe, who would have been paired with Woods in the final round two shots behind, was disqualified Saturday for putting his score on Jesper Parnevik's card.

"When I went to bed last night, I really thought I was going to win this thing," Curtis said. "You've got to have that feeling."

He's believed to be the first player since Francis Ouimet at the 1913 US Open to win a major championship in his first try.

"To be honest, I would have been happy to make it to the weekend," the 26-year-old Ohio native said. "Obviously, I did that and went out there and probably played the best weekend of my life."

For Bjorn, it ended with the worst four holes of his life.

The Dane surrendered the lead by going bogey-double bogey-bogey, then needed to chip in for birdie at No. 18 to force a playoff.

When the ball curled right of the cup, Bjorn had earned a place alongside Jean Van de Velde, Ed Sneed and Doug Sanders by frittering away a championship that was in his grasp.

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