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Ben Curtis wins British Open

July 21, 2003 12:05 IST

American rookie Ben Curtis produced one of the biggest surprises in major championship history on Sunday, winning the 132nd British Open by a stroke from Dane Thomas Bjorn and Fiji's Vijay Singh.

Curtis, a 300-1 outsider at the start of the tournament and a 40-1 chance going into the final round, fired a closing two-under-par 69 to finish at one-under 283.

Ben CurtisBjorn threw away a three-shot lead with four holes remaining to close with a 72, his troubles highlighted by taking three strokes to get out of a bunker by the 16th green.

World number one Tiger Woods, who had been bidding for a ninth career major, faltered after a strong start, closing with a 71 to end joint-fourth at one over, level with Davis Love III, who shot a 72.

Woods, beaten by just two strokes, may be reflecting even more sorely on Thursday's opening hole where a lost ball cost him a triple-bogey seven.

Bjorn, who had been bidding for his first major, will also be regretting a two-stroke penalty incurred on the opening day for angrily striking the sand after he fluffed a bunker shot.

Little-known Curtis, ranked a lowly 396 in the world, survived a back-nine crisis of his own to become the first player to win on his British Open debut since compatriot Tom Watson in 1975.

"It's just unbelievable," Curtis, 26, told reporters after a sun-baked day at Royal St George's. "I went to bed last night saying I'm going to win this thing and I knew it would take a good number (score).

"But I was just happy coming in just to play the weekend. That would have been fine with me.

"This is the greatest tournament in the world and I'm glad to be the champion," added the PGA Tour rookie, who became the seventh American winner in the last nine British Opens.

Ryder Cup player Bjorn, who bounced back from a bogey at the first with birdies at three, four, seven and 14, suffered badly in the bunker at the par-three 16th, registering a double-bogey five.

HANDING VICTORY

He went on to bogey the par-four 17th, failing to get up and down from just off the green, to hand victory to Curtis.

Bjorn, who had started the day one clear of the field, slipped back into a tie for second with twice major winner Singh, who returned a 70.

The Dane will not forget, though, that he could have begun the last day three ahead had he not been penalised on Thursday.

He said of Sunday's drama: "I was standing on the 15th tee with one hand on the trophy and I let it go.

"But I've got to go on from here and, hopefully, there will be a major coming my way very shortly."

Woods, who has never come from behind on the last day to win a major, said: "I hit some great shots and I also hit a couple of poor ones, but they weren't that bad. I just couldn't make any putts on the back nine.

"The putts I needed to keep the momentum going, or to start some momentum, just didn't fall."

Curtis, who qualified by tying for 13th at the Western Open earlier this month, produced sparkling form with his approach play over the first 11 holes.

Appearing remarkably calm, he reeled off four birdies to reach the turn in four-under-par 32, at that point tied for the lead with Singh.

TWO AHEAD

As Singh faltered at the eighth, Curtis picked up further shots at 10 and 11, rifling his approaches to five and 12 feet, to stretch his lead to two.

But the Ohio-based professional, a semi-finalist at the 1999 U.S. amateur championship, dropped his first shot of the day at the par-four 12th, where he failed to get up and down from the back of the green.

After finding the rough off the tee at the 459-yard 13th, Curtis also bogeyed 14, 15 and 17 to fade to one under, before Bjorn threw away his own golden chance of a major breakthrough with his poor finish.

Woods lost momentum with two bogeys around the turn after three early birdies in four holes had lifted him to within a stroke of then-leader Singh with 11 to play.

Woods dropped his first shot of the day at the 455-yard eighth, missing a five-foot putt for par, and also bogeyed the par-four 10th, where he found heavy rough with his second shot and failed to get up and down in two.

Although he reached the green in two to set up another birdie at the par-five 14th, he dropped further shots at the par-four 15th, where he overhit his approach, and at the 17th, where he also misjudged to slip back to level par.

Six-times major champion Nick Faldo, who began the day five off the pace, briefly closed to within two of the lead with a birdie-three at the fifth and an eagle-three at the seventh, where he holed out from 20 feet.

However, the 46-year-old Briton missed a four-foot putt at the eighth to run up a bogey-five and, despite further birdies at 11 and 14, dropped three shots in the last four holes for a closing 70 and a share of eighth place at three-over 287.

Mark Lamport-Stokes
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