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A Major Major UPSET
Michael Bamberger
July 28, 2003
Playing like a hardened vet, unknown and untested Hooters Tour escapee Ben Curtis won the British Open
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July 28, 2003

A Major Major Upset

Playing like a hardened vet, unknown and untested Hooters Tour escapee Ben Curtis won the British Open

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Thursday was expensive for Bjorn as well. On the 17th hole the 32-year-old Ryder Cup player, seeking his first major title, failed to get his ball out of a bunker and whacked his club in the sand, for which he incurred a two-stroke penalty (LIFE OF REILLY, page 84). How much would he pay to get those two shots back? Many euros, except such strokes cannot be bought.

Playing with Love in the final twosome on Sunday, Bjorn had a three-shot lead when he missed a 25-foot par putt on 15. Gary Evans, the English professional who finished a shot out of last year's British Open playoff, looked up at the locker-room TV and said, "Welcome to the pressure cooker." A swami, Evans. On the par-316th Bjorn needed three swipes to get out of a greenside bunker and made double bogey. On the par-4 17th, he drove into the rough and ultimately failed to get up and down, making bogey. Needing a birdie on the difficult, 460-yard par-4 18th to force a playoff with Curtis, Bjorn was short of the green on his approach, then could only stare as his chip fell off to the right.

Curtis, the first player to arrive at Royal St. George's and register for the championship, came without his regular caddie (who had a visa problem). So IMG, the agency that represents Curtis (as well as Woods), arranged for a veteran European tour caddie, Andy Sutton, to work for him. On his final hole on Sunday, in the fourth-to-last pairing, Curtis made an eight-footer for par, leaving him in second place, two shots behind Bjorn when he went into the scorer's trailer. He was pulled out by Sutton after Bjorn was done playing in the sand. "C'mon, we could be in a playoff," the caddie said. "You've got to go to the range and chip a few." Like the face of Big Ben, the London landmark the golfer saw on a day of touring last week, the expression on Ben Curtis's face never changed. Even with victor?' secured and Candace clutching him and shrieking, he remained impassive.

When the long Sunday was over, Bjorn and his wife walked to their car, linked by their young daughter, Filippa. The golfer held the girl's left hand, the mother had her right. Every three or four steps they lifted the squealing little girl into the air, higher than some of Bjorn's fateful bunker shots. If his world had ended, you could not tell. The European golfers show an uncommon grace in defeat: Jos� Mar�a Ol�zabal at the Ryder Cup at Brookline in '99, Jean Van de Velde two months before that at Carnoustie. You saw it again on Saturday, when the veteran English golfer Mark Roe, after shooting a 67, was disqualified for signing the wrong scorecard. "The rules of golf are there to protect the game," Roe said placidly. There's more than one way to earn a permanent place in the lore of the game.

Curtis chose the best way. In Sunday's long dusk Mark Steinberg, the IMG agent who represents Woods, was pressed into extra duty squiring Curtis's fianc�e and two of his cousins, who came "all the way from America," as the winner said in his simple, charming victory speech before the packed bleachers around the 18th green. Within the small Curtis entourage being led into the crowded press tent by Steinberg, there was understandable hyperventilating going on. "Everybody needs to calm down," the agent told his temporary charges.

The agent wasn't, of course, speaking of golf's newest champion. Ben Curtis is always calm, even when he sees his name engraved on the silver trophy alongside the names of Tom Watson and Greg Norman and Nick Faldo, all of whom played superbly last week, and also Bill Rogers and Kel Nagle and Fred Daly, who peaked with their Open wins.

In the press tent Curtis cited a threesome of Americans on the jug and in the pantheon of golf: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones. "Right now, many people are probably saying, 'Well, he doesn't belong there,' but I know I do," the winner said. "So that's all that matters." Twenty-six years old, one major played and one major won, and already so steely and so wise.

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