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Longshot Winners in the Majors

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?