Big Ben Captures Claret Jug

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2003, 4:00 pm
SANDWICH, England -- Ben Curtis stood on the 18th green Sunday, lining up an eight-foot par attempt, trying to stay focused on the most important putt of his life ' and trying not to think about everything he might have thrown away.
 
Then came a massive groan from behind him. And then another.
 
At that point, he knew he had to stay committed to the present. Make his putt. And possibly become the 132nd Open champion.
 
He did. And he did.
 
Curtis posted a 2-under 69 to finish regulation at 1-under-par 283, and then awaited his fate. He had bogeyed four of his final seven holes, but a brutal blunder by Thomas Bjorn allowed him the opportunity to earn his first major victory ' in his first major championship.
 
'Oh, man, that's about all I can say now,' said an overwhelmed Curtis, who is believed to be the first player to win a major in his debut since Francis Ouimet in the 1913 U.S. Open. 'I just can't describe how I feel right now.'
 
Bjorn was leading the tournament by two strokes, at 3-under, when he hit his tee shot on the par-3 16th into the right greenside bunker. His first attempt out landed on the green, just short of the halfway point between the hazard and the hole, but rolled gently back into the sand. His second attempt did the same.
 
The Danes double bogey completely wiped out the past.
 
Curtis string of dropped shots, Davis Love IIIs terrible start, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singhs days of inconsistency ' all rendered meaningless.
 
Woods and Singh were the first to try and catch Curtis. They both had squandered several opportunities throughout the round, but they, too, were still alive.
 
Both were at even par with two holes to play. Woods, however, came up short of the green on his approach shot to the par-4 17th. His chip ran seven feet past, from where he missed the par save. That put him two behind. Needing an eagle on the par-4 finishing hole, he had to settle for par when his tee shot landed in the right rough.
 
Woods shot even-par 71 to finish at 1-over 285. He has still never won a major when trailing after 54 holes.
 
Singh, who was paired with Woods, saved par at 17 to give himself a chance. But he also pulled his tee shot at the last and made par for a round of 70 and an even-par finish.
 
Then there were Bjorn and Love ' the final twosome.
 
After bogeying three of his first four holes, Love battled back to even par, only to miss a birdie at 16, and bogey 17. His 72 put him into a tie for fourth with Woods at 1-over.
 
'I got myself so far behind I didn't have a chance,' Love said. 'If I'd hit a few more good shots I would have won.'
 
That left it up to Bjorn. The man who had the claret jug in his hands, but buried it in the sand.
 
Thursday, Bjorn made a quadruple bogey on the 17th hole. He was penalized two strokes after swiping at the sand when he failed to get his shot out of the bunker.
 
Sunday, the penalty was far more severe. Prior to his gaffe at 16, Bjorn had found a fairway bunker at the par-4 15th and made bogey to fall back to 3-under.
 
'All of a sudden, I let a three-shot lead go ' and then 16,' said Bjorn, who shot 72.
 
After falling back into a tie with Curtis, at 1-under, Bjorn missed a 12-foot putt at 17 to drop to even par. He had one last gasp at 18, but he came up short. First, his approach shot came up short of the green. Then his potential playoff-inducing chip came up 18 inches short of the hole.
 
And just like that, an entertainingly wild week off the southeast coast of England came to a conclusion ' with the most improbable major champion since John Daly in the 1991 PGA Championship.
 
Maybe it was fate. Curtis hired local caddie Andrew Sutton for the week. Sutton used to work for Andrew Coltart, who was born May 12, 1970 ' the same birthdate as Masters winner Mike Weir and U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk.
 
The stars shone so brightly off the 132nd Open Championship leaderboard Saturday evening that you might have missed Curtis name in the glare.
 
'That's probably where Ben sneaked in. Everyone was talking about Tiger, Love and Bjorn. Ben just played his round and got away with it,' said Singh.
 
It was no surprise to see an American on top of the big yellow board ' they had won six of the last eight prior to this year, but Curtis?
 
The former two-time Ohio state amateur champion qualified for a trip to Royal St. Georges based solely on his performance (T13) at the Western Open, where the top eight finishers not otherwise exempt into the seasons third major were offered an invitation. He entered this week 396th on the Official World Golf Ranking.
 
'I told my wife yesterday, 'This guy can play. He's no pushover,'' relayed Singh, who played with Curtis at the Western.
 
The rest of the world began to take notice Sunday when the 26-year-old PGA Tour rookie stood alone in first place following a birdie at the par-5 fourth that lifted him to 1-under.
 
Players far more established than Curtis were unable to match his moxie Sunday.
 
Kenny Perry shot 73 to end at 3-over-par 287. Nick Faldo tried valiantly to atone for his Sandwich defeat a decade ago. He eagled the par-5 seventh ' to an explosive crowd response ' to get to 1-over. And made it to even par with a birdie at the par-5 14th. But bogeys at 15, 16 and 17 finished him at 3-over, as well. Sergio Garcia struggled to a 74 for a 4-over total.
 
What had started out as a wide-open opportunity for most anyone to win the Open was reduced to only a handful on contenders by the back nine.
 
Curtis, who started at 1-over, birdied Nos. 1, 4, 7 and 9 to make the turn in 4-under 32. He then climbed to 4-under for the tournament with another birdie, from 15 feet, at the par-4 10th.
 
The momentum carried through to a sixth birdie on the day at the par-3 11th, but it died quickly thereafter with a bogey at 12.
 
He butchered the par-5 14th, when he crisscrossed the fairway on his way to a bogey-6. Curtis piped his tee shot down the center at the par-4 15th, but then badly pulled his approach shot left of the green and made his second consecutive bogey. He added another square to his card by three-putting from off the green at 17.
 
Woods and Singh, playing alongside one another, were up and down all day. Singh got to 3-under before dropping back to even par.
 
'It was sad actually, because I thought I was playing really well,' said Singh. 'Coming down the stretch, you can't make any bogeys.'
 
Woods, similarly, got to 2-under, but spent most of the day just trying to stay out of the black.
 
'It's going to work out for somebody. You've got to have things go your way in order to win,' said Woods, who is now winless in his last five majors. 'And this week I got my share of good break, and also got my share of really bad ones, too.'
 
Through it all, it was Bjorns tournament to win ' or lose. He started the day with just his third bogey of the week, but by the time he made the turn he had picked up three shots to get to 3-under.
 
A birdie at the par-5 14th lifted him to minus-4. Then he bogeyed 15, and doubled 16, which wiped everyones slate clean ' and effectively put Curtis into the championship category of Daly, Ouimet, 1969 U.S. Open champion Orville Moody, a former drill sergeant, and Jack Fleck, who defeated Ben Hogan in a playoff in the 1955 U.S. Open.
 
'I'm in great company,' said Curtis. 'Right now many people are probably saying, 'Well, he doesn't really belong there,' but I know I do. So that's all that matters.'
 
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    After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

    Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

    Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

    It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard


    On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

    There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

    He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

    His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

    Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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    Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

    With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

    He picked up one more No. 2, too.

    The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

    In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

    Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

    “It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

    Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

    Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

    He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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    Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

    Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

    Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

    His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

    “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

    Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

    Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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    Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

    Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

    Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

    What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

    Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

    Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

    Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

    Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

    Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

    Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry