Longshot Winners in the Majors

By Associated PressJuly 22, 2003, 4:00 pm
SANDWICH, England (AP) -- The sand was rumpled in the pot bunker just right of the 16th hole at Royal St. George's, no doubt the result of amateurs wanting to see just how badly Thomas Bjorn blew his chance to win the British Open.
Up ahead, workers trying to keep their balance in 35 mph gusts were tearing down the massive grandstands surrounding the 18th green.
Thousands of fans had been in those seats as they watched Ben Curtis pass by, not knowing who he was or even daring to imagine that the 396th-ranked player in the world would be introduced within the hour as the champion golfer of the year.
On the day after a bizarre week produced a most unlikely winner, Royal & Ancient secretary Peter Dawson summed it up with a bemused smile on his face.
'It can be done,' he said.
By now, everyone should believe it.
Depending on what happens at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in two weeks at the Women's British Open, and at Oak Hill next month in the PGA Championship, this could be remembered as the year of the longshot.
First came Hilary Lunke, the only major champion in recent memory to carry a master's degree and an 11-wood.
Lunke had never finished higher than 15th in her two short years on the LPGA Tour. No one gave her a fighting chance at the U.S. Women's Open because she had so little experience and could barely hit the ball out of her shadow.
She won a playoff at Pumpkin Ridge two weeks ago, the first champion to have gone through two stage of qualifying -- and that includes opening the second stage with an 80.
Next up was Curtis, a PGA Tour rookie who never came close to cracking the top 10 until he tied for 13th at the Western Open. That was good enough to get him into the British Open for his first taste of a major championship.
On Sunday, Curtis took his place among Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods. All of those names are above his on the silver claret jug.
In the history books, Curtis will be linked with the likes of Alf Perry and Jack Fleck.
Perry, a British club professional, begged for a few days off so he could play in the 1935 British Open at Muirfield. He won by four shots, and was last seen caressing the claret jug while sitting on a bench at the train station to go home.
Ben Hogan was already in the clubhouse at Olympic Club in the 1955 when someone said Jack Fleck -- Jack who? -- was making a run. Fleck caught Hogan with a birdie on the 72nd hole, then beat him in an 18-hole playoff the next day, his only victory of the decade.
'There's so many professional golfers out there that set the dream just to win a major,' Curtis said. 'And I did it my first try.'
The longshots had some help.
Lunke might have had a tough time taking on Annika Sorenstam in the playoff at Pumpkin Ridge, only Sorenstam failed to deliver in the clutch. With a 4-wood into the par-5 18th, needing only a par to get into the playoff, the best player in women's golf made bogey.
Curtis got some help from Bjorn, who plays out of the desert in Dubai but couldn't handle the soft sand in the pot bunkers at Royal St. George's.
Bjorn took three swipes out of the sand before escaping the pot bunker at No. 17 in the final round, despite having plenty of green behind the flag and a two-shot lead.
His collapse wasn't nearly as shocking as Jean Van de Velde hitting into the rough, off the grandstand, into a burn, into a bunker and making triple bogey on the final hole at Carnoustie to blow his three-shot lead.
Sometimes, mistakes are more memorable than anything the winner did.
Don't forget that Paul Lawrie shot 67 in the final round at Carnoustie, then two of the purest iron shots in the playoff, to win the 1999 British Open.
And be sure to remember Curtis as more than an unknown.
While Bjorn botched the bunker shots, while Woods, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III failed to make clutch putts down the stretch, Curtis never shot worse than 72 over four days at Royal St. George's. Equally impressive, he never made worse than bogey.
Lunke did not stumble into the biggest prize in women's golf. She made nine putts of 5 feet for longer in the 18-hole playoff, including a 15-foot birdie on the final hole.
Yes, the odds were ridiculously high. That doesn't mean the victory was a fluke.
Singh saw it coming at the Western Open. He played with Curtis and the 26-year-old from Ohio closed with rounds of 69-68 to earn a spot in the British Open.
On the eve of the final round at Royal St. George's, Singh said he told his wife, 'This guy can play. He's no pushover.'
What remains to be seen is whether young players with no credentials and hardly any name recognition are inspired by what Curtis and Lunke did this month.
Perhaps there will be another longshot winner at the PGA Championship.
Someone like Tiger Woods.
Remember him?
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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x