Tiger Woods revealed that he is a mere mortal after all, accepting his new status with graciousness and humility and in the process showing his true greatness. Thomas Bjorn showed even greater character in accepting the silver salver as joint runner-up in the 132nd Open Championship with Vijay Singh. Davis Love accepted the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with verisimilitude to finish in joint fourth place and one hopes that in the days that follow he has less to say about the winner or the venue than he did about Paul Lawrie and Carnoustie in 1999.
Ben Curtis has become this year's champion golfer at his first appearance in the event. Not since Tom Watson in the 70s and Tony Lema in the 60s has any player won at first time of entry to this, the greatest challenge in the game. Curtis is a 26-year-old from Kent, Ohio, who is ranked somewhere about 360 in the world, having to been a pro since 2000 and having accrued some $200,000 to date on the US Tour. He qualified for the championship due to taking 13th place at the Western Open in Chicago two weeks ago, a position that fortuitously carried automatic entry to the field at Royal St George's.
Invigorated and inspired by the opportunity he left Kent, Ohio, for Kent, England, last Thursday and was first on the course last Saturday when it opened for practice. He never doubted that he could win although he must have been the only person on the planet without such doubts and, of the 2001 players who set out to win the title two weeks ago, he must have ranked tied as the least likely. Ben Curtis only had a rough idea of what a links course was when his ball bounced on the first fairway and he watched it kick into deep rough.
His learning curve has been steep as well as effective and it is not unlikely that he will figure prominently in major championships again. Ben Curtis is also one cool dude for not only did he maintain his composure through circumstances that for most would have required at least one change of underwear, but he also kept his concentration through four rounds of excellent golf.
After rounds of 72, 72 and 70, at one over par he joined Philip Price in the fourth last game in the last round two strokes behind Thomas Bjorn, the overnight leader. His last round 69 was enough to give him a one-shot title victory - but only because Bjorn blew it.
There is a danger that Thomas Bjorn will be bracketed with Jean Van de Velde as an Open blower. This would be unfortunate for Bjorn is a great player and a great champion - Van de Velde is not. The bunker to the right of the par three 16th hole at Royal St George's is not easy at any time and with the pin position where it was in the last round, the shot that Bjorn attempted was verging on the foolhardy. The bunker is deep and his ball was against the face. The crest is high and the slope down to the pin severe. In retrospect, with a two shot lead, Bjorn should simply have splashed out and accepted bogey. Instead, he tried valiantly to put the ball close to the hole twice, each time watching it roll back from the crest into the bunker. His third attempt was good and he showed admirable nerve in needing only one putt to finish the hole with a double-bogey five.
Doubtless all those who contested the Open can look back and rue a particular shot but in Bjorn's case there can be no doubt that the first shot that he played from the bunker on the16th hole cost him the Open Championship.
There can also be no doubt that the first shot that Tiger Woods played on the first hole on the first days play cost him the title. His tee shot was an exact replica of that which he played from the first tee on the first day's play at Muirfield last year. Both were blocked right and into deep rough - but with one salient difference - this year his ball was lost. The best efforts of 25 people stomping about in the rough failed to locate his ball and his third shot off the tee contributed in no small part to the seven that he accrued on his card. The Tiger finished the event on 285, two shots behind Ben Curtis.
The Open Championship is rarely without some drama and all too frequently the drama eclipses the golf. Paul Lawrie has never received the recognition that he deserved after his 1999 triumph at Carnoustie while Van de Velde has achieved celebrity status as a result of his ridiculous histrionics on the last hole. The history of the Open is strewn with such travesties. This year's event will sadly be more associated with Mark Roe than it will with Ben Curtis.
Mark Roe would have achieved notoriety had he pursued carpentry as a career. His life to date has been something of a roller-coaster ride and his golf, even within a single tournament, like a dash on a big dipper. He is simply a wonderfully talented, eminently loveable character and something of a clown.
Playing with Jasper Parnevik, another clown judging by his attire, the two omitted to exchange cards and in consequence, Roe dutifully kept Parnevik's horrendous score on his card and signed for it. Meanwhile, Parnevik happily signed for Roe's excellent 67 which matched Faldo's score for the extended course record and also the lowest scoring round of the tournament. Both Roe and Parnevik were disqualified to general punter horror and widespread schadenfreude in the media.
Memory can be short lived. Good sense prevailed when Bobby Locke failed to replace his ball properly after remarking it on the final green of the 1957 Open and the championship committee deemed that he had gained no advantage from his error and his transgression of the rules was waived. It is a pity that no one had the presence of mind to quietly recall the pair of clowns to the scorer's tent and sort out the cards.
Memory can also make the heart grow fonder. Royal St George's will be remembered with great affection by all who watched links golf played at its very best. Faldo will be lauded and applauded by a new generation, Bjorn will have an admiration society, Phillip Price has earned an entirely new respect, Brian Davies and Gary Evans have come of age and Tiger Woods has finally shown his mortality. Ben Curtis' name will never be forgotten for not only is his name indelibly engraved on the claret jug, the gutsy determination with which he won the Open Championship in 2003 has won him a special place in golfing hearts all over the world.
|| 21 - JULY 2003