Finding what makes a fluke in a major

By Doug FergusonJuly 12, 2011, 7:11 pm

SANDWICH, England – Ben Curtis is no fluke.

At least not now.

After winning the British Open eight years ago at Royal St. George’s as a rookie, Curtis has gone on to win twice more on the PGA Tour. He played on a winning Ryder Cup team (not many Americans can say that). And he nearly won another major in the 2008 PGA Championship until two bad tee shots over the last five holes made him a runner-up, two shots behind Padraig Harrington.

Some players wouldn’t mind a career like that.

Even so, any conversation about a “fluke” winner at a major invariably includes Curtis, and he’s probably higher on any such list than he should be.

What made Curtis such a surprise in 2003 at Royal St. George’s was that not many outside his immediate family knew who he was. That included the local caddie he hired for the week, Andy Sutton, who’s first reaction to being told of an American in need of a caddie replied, “Ben who?”

Then again, Curtis was a 26-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour. He only got into the British Open two weeks prior with a tie for 13th in the Western Open, his best finish of the year. He was No. 396 in the world ranking. And he was playing his first major.

By all accounts, that’s the very definition of a surprise.

A big surprise.

The harshest comment that week came from Davis Love III. He was frustrated like so many others by the goofy bounces at Royal St. George’s, and when Curtis was holding the claret jug, Love said, “The Open got exactly the champion it deserved.”

An unpredictable links, a winner no one imagined.

Curtis felt at times as though people expected an apology from him. The leaderboard featured an All-Star cast of contenders, from Vijay Singh to Tiger Woods, from Love to Kenny Perry. And the championship belonged to Thomas Bjorn until he took three shots to escape a greenside bunker on the 16th and squandered a two-shot lead on Sunday.

“It didn’t really bother me what other people thought,” he said. “I know what I did that week.”

He had the lowest score, which all that ever counts.

What makes Curtis stand out is that he was on the practice range, having finished well before the final group, when Bjorn made par on the last hole and Sutton leaned out of the scoring trailer next to the range and said, “Ben, you’re the Open champion.”

He was a surprise because no one really saw it coming until it was over.

Shaun Micheel was different. In the very next major, at Oak Hill for the PGA Championship, Micheel shot 68 in the second round to take the lead and he never lost it. Leading by one shot on the final hole, he hit 7-iron to within inches for a signature moment on an otherwise nondescript week.

It was his fifth season on the PGA Tour. He was No. 169 in the world. He had never won in 160 previous starts as a pro on tour, and he had only one finish in the top three, the previous year at the B.C. Open.

Was that a fluke? His golf sure didn’t look that way at Oak Hill, especially considering Micheel had to cope with being atop the leaderboard over the entire weekend on a difficult golf course.

Since then?

He went three years without once getting into contention or finishing among the top three, a stretch of 83 tournaments that ended when he was runner-up at the PGA Championship, although he was never a factor at a major that Tiger Woods won by five shots.

The PGA Championship remains his only win, although Micheel has been slowed by health issues in recent years.

Just what is a surprise when it comes to majors?

“You could say I was a surprise,” Justin Leonard said.

Most wouldn’t agree with him. Leonard was so good in college that he won a U.S. Amateur and made it on tour without ever going to Q-school. He had already won twice on tour when he arrived at Royal Troon in 1997. But hear him out.

“You’ve got Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik in the last group,” he said. “I’m playing with Fred Couples. Now, out of those four guys, how many people would have thought I would win?”

A dozen years later, it was a surprise when Leonard didn’t win the British Open. He was part of a three-way playoff with Jean Van de Velde and Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie, the major famous for Van de Velde’s comical collapse on the 72nd hold to make triple bogey, and Lawrie setting a record by coming from 10 shots behind on the last day to eventually win.

Lawrie, no doubt, would get plenty of votes in the category of shock winners.

Most players would define surprise as someone who had never won before, who had never seriously contended in a major, who had never played in a major or who did not look like he would win until he showed up at the trophy presentation.

John Daly was the ninth alternate in 1991 PGA, spared any talk of a fluke because of how far he hit the ball, and by winning at St. Andrews four years later. Louis Oosthuizen, the defending champion at this British Open, is loaded with talent and one of the sweetest swings. Even so, he had missed the cut in seven of his eight majors, and the lone exception was when he was dead last in a PGA. Then he won at St. Andrews by seven shots.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is one of the most celebrated wins by an American - Francis Ouimet, playing in his first major in 1913 at Brookline, across the street from his house, beating the great Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

Even more stunning was in 1955 at Olympic Club, when Jack Fleck’s late heroics got him into a playoff with Ben Hogan and then beat him the next day in a playoff. And don’t forget Orville Moody, who’s only win came at the 1969 U.S. Open.

They all had one thing in common.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done,” David Duval said. “You had the best score of anyone else that week.”

Think someone like Colin Montgomerie wouldn’t love to be able to say that?

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Runner-up McIlroy: 'I should have closed it out'

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 5:18 pm

After taking the 36-hole lead by three and taking a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round, Rory McIlroy failed to keep pace with Francesco Molinari on Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship.

Struggling with a two-way miss throughout the weekend, McIlroy fell four down to Molinari through 10 holes.

The Ulsterman attempted to mount a late charge, with birdies at 12 and 17, but when his eagle putt at the 72nd hole came up inches short, and when Molinari's ball opted not to spin back into the water, the comeback bid came to an end.

His final round of 2-under 70 left him in solo second, two shots behind the champion.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

"I’m just disappointed I didn’t play better over the weekend," McIlroy said. "I was in a great position after two days and struggled yesterday and sort struggled today again, as well. I just couldn’t get it going. I let Francesco get a few shots ahead of me, and I couldn’t claw that back.

“I played some good golf coming down the back nine, hit some better shots, but I need to work on a few things going forward."

McIlroy ended an 18-month worldwide winless drought earlier this year with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but hasn't claimed victory on the European Tour in two years, since the Irish Open in May of 2016.

"I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week," McIlroy said. "But that’s not taking anything away from Francesco. He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing. He deserved the win, I need to do a little more work, and I’m looking to forward to getting right back at it at Memorial next week."

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Molinari holds off McIlroy to win BMW PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 3:20 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England - Francesco Molinari's path to the biggest win of his career at the BMW PGA Championship was drama-free until he sized up his approach to the 72nd hole.

Rory McIlroy, his closest rival three strokes back, had just hit to 20 feet to set up an eagle chance. Molinari was between clubs for his third shot and faced a delicate wedge over the water protecting Wentworth's pretty 18th green.

His ball landed short of the pin and span back toward the water. The spectators held their collective breath - so did Molinari - but it came to rest on the fringe, just short of trouble.

''Just a bit of luck at the right time,'' Molinari said, with a smile.

After McIlroy came up inches short with his eagle putt, Molinari rolled in for par from 6 feet for a 4-under 68 that secured a two-stroke victory at Wentworth on Sunday. It was the fifth win of his career, and his most satisfying.

''If I could pick one tournament to win in my career, it would be this one,'' the Italian said at the prizegiving ceremony.

A Sunday shootout between Molinari and McIlroy at the European Tour's flagship event never really materialized.

They entered the final round tied for the lead on 13 under but while McIlroy sprayed his drives left and right, Molinari was the model of consistency and established a three-shot cushion by the turn after birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 8.

From there on, it was a clinic in front-running from Molinari, who laid up when he needed to and picked up his only shot on the back nine with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 12th.

McIlroy birdied the par 5s at Nos. 17 and 18 but mounted his victory charge too late.

''I didn't feel intimidated at all,'' Molinari said of his head-to-head with the former world No. 1. ''It's just the last couple of holes, he's basically thinking eagle, eagle. I'm thinking par, par, and that makes the whole difference.

''Sometimes I just get too drawn on what the other guy is doing, and I was really good today, hitting good shots and focusing on my process and not worrying about anything else.''

Molinari played his final 44 holes bogey-free. He only dropped two shots all week, one of them coming on his first hole.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

He will likely climb into the world's top 20 on Monday and has moved into the automatic qualifying places for the European team for the Ryder Cup, which he hasn't played since 2012 when Europe beat the United States in the so-called ''Miracle at Medinah.''

''I'm playing well enough that I shouldn't really worry too much about that,'' Molinari said. ''I should just keep doing my own thing and hopefully things will take care of themselves.''

Molinari previously had five top-10 finishes in the last six years at Wentworth, including being runner-up to Alex Noren last year.

On that occasion, Noren closed with a 10-under 62 and the Swede embarked on another last-day charge 12 months later, a fifth birdie of the day at No. 12 briefly drawing him to within two shots of Molinari.

It was the closest he came, with a bogey at the next virtually ending his bid for victory.

With a 67, Noren was tied for third with Lucas Bjerregaard (65), a stroke back from McIlroy.

McIlroy, the 2014 winner at Wentworth, played what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 on Friday, a bogey-free 65 that left him with a three-shot lead.

He struggled off the tee in shooting 71 on Saturday and started the final round with errant drives on Nos. 1 and 3 (both right, into spectators) and No. 4 (left). After a bogey at No. 10, he was the only player in the top 10 over par but he birdied the three par 5s coming home to salvage what was otherwise a disappointing Sunday.

''With a 36-hole lead,'' McIlroy said, ''I should have closed it out this week.''

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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”