Who Wouldve Guessed

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So now golf has another American story.
 
A little-known Ohioan is the 'Champion Golfer of the Year.'
 
Ben Curtis of Kent State and the Mill Creek Golf Club in Ostrander, Ohio, made a 12-foot putt on the 72nd hole of the Open Championship Sunday. And it turned out to win him the tournament. It was his first major. In his first major.
 
Curtis' maternal grandfather built the course on which he grew up and learned the game. His father, Bob Curtis, is Mill Creek's superintendent.
 
Last month Jim Furyk, the son of a Pennsylvania teaching professional, won his first major at Olympia Fields near Chicago. It was his first victory in a major championship. It was the U.S. Open. In fact all four current major championship title holders--Curtis, Furyk, Texan Rich Beem and Canadian Mike Weir--own just one of these grails.
 
Somewhere Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia, among others, are scratching their heads and trying to figure out what they are doing wrong. They are on a short list of best players never to have won a major.
 
Montgomerie's case is a particularly peculiar one. He withdrew from this Open Championship at Royal St. George's before completing nine holes. Said he slipped on wet pavement before his round and hurt his wrist breaking the fall. No good reason to disbelieve him. But lots of people were wondering why he was so chipper during interviews after his tournament had ended so abruptly. He actually looked relieved.
 
It was almost as if he were glad he didn't have to spend another few days taking on the quirky monster St. George's had quietly become. Montgomerie remains an enigma. He has been an absolute warrior in the Ryder Cup for the Euros for a long time now. But too often he seems to shrink from the challenge of the majors.
 
Mickelson has now played in 11 British Opens without even a top-10 finish. He shot an indifferent 78 Sunday. Only nine of the 73 players to make the cut posted a worse 72-hole score.
 
Garcia was poised to make a move Sunday. And he had a short-iron in his hand on the first hole after rifling his drive into perfect position. Alas, the shot sailed long and left. Three putts later Garcia had bogey. He drifted to a final round 74 and a disappointing tie for 10th.
 
Tiger Woods has won eight major championships. And he was in even better position than Garcia after birdieing three of the first seven holes Sunday. But he bogeyed three of the next eight. Curtis beat him by two.
 
Woods has not triumphed in any of his last five majors. That is not a slump. But it is a drought, by his lofty standards. Meanwhile, Woods still hasn't won a major coming from behind on Sunday. Much will be made of this in the days leading up to next month's PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.
 
My best guess is Woods will take all of this palaver and use it as fuel to drive himself even harder. That, by the way, is a scary thought.
 
If Ben Curtis was the Cinderella story of the British Open, Thomas Bjorn is the guy who appeared to turn into a pumpkin. He bogeyed the 15th, doubled the 16th and bogeyed the 17th to lose by one.
 
But then he proceeded to comport himself in a fashion that was positively heroic.
 
The balding Dane stood in front of the cameras and the microphones and the notepads after his round and took on all comers. He offered not one excuse. He surrendered not one shred of dignity. The loss, he said, would hurt in the coming days and weeks and months. You couldn't help but respect him.
 
Somebody once said, 'Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser.' The corollary you never hear is, 'Show me a bad loser and I'll show you a loser.'
 
Fact is, if you retain your grace, your dignity, your honesty and your perspective, you are never a loser.
 
Ben Curtis' victory is another American golf story. And it is a wonderful one.
 
Thomas Bjorn's acceptance of what happened to him at Royal St. George's is several levels above and beyond what Curtis attained.
 
Bjorn's is a universal example. And it is a shining one.