The Open produces a surprise young champion
Royal St George’s was the setting for the 2003 Open Championship. Since the last Open had been played there in 1993, the course had been lengthened and toughened. A dry hot summer had produced hard fairways and the dramatic undulations of the course would mean unsuspected ball bounces for many of the players throughout the competition.
The first day’s strong gusty winds provided testing conditions for the competitors. Defending Champion Ernie Els was never quite in control and finished with 78. Montgomerie was forced to retire during his round due to a hand injury and Tiger Woods, of whom great things were once again expected, took 7 at the first hole and finished with 73. Others had a more encouraging start. Veteran Open player Greg Norman played attacking golf and scored 69, one of only five competitors with sub par scores. Little known American Ben Curtis was pleased with his round of 72. The first day leader was Hennie Otto, a young South African, who played an excellent round of 68.
The second day saw higher scores. Tiger returned a more satisfying 72, leaving him only four strokes off the lead. In contrast to the previous day, Els had the best round, scoring 68. Greg Norman also had a reversal of fortunes. With a score of 79, the course seemed to have got the better of him. Leader Hennie Otto scored 76 and slipped to fourth place, tied with six others including Curtis, who had scored another respectable 72. Davis Love III had a lucky day. He hit a boundary marker at the 14th, but his ball bounced back into play, saving his score and he finished as the second day leader with a total of 141.
The third day dawned hot and balmy, and low scores were more frequent. To the crowds’ delight, Nick Faldo shot 67, the lowest score of the week. Pierre Fulke and Mark Roe also shot 67, but huge disappointment followed for Roe and his playing partner Jesper Parnevik. They were disqualified from the competition following their failure to exchange cards. Vijay Singh and Woods recorded much improved scores of 69 and moved up to tie for third with Ben Curtis, who had played another very composed round, along with Kenny Perry and Sergio Garcia. Els made no further ground and carded a disappointing 72. It was Thomas Björn who took the lead after this round. His steady and efficient score of 69 made him the only player to complete three rounds under par. However, everything was left to play for as only three shots separated him from eight other players.
The final round was characterised more by disappointing collapses than outstanding challenges. However, Open veterans Greg Norman and Nick Faldo had inspiring rounds, Norman scoring 68 and tying for 18th and Faldo finishing in tied 8th position. In the end, the title was within the reach of five players. Björn, Woods, Singh, Love and Curtis all played tight final rounds but found difficulties at the closing holes. Despite a score of 69, Curtis had bogeys at the 14th, 15th and 17th. Tiger dropped a shot at the 15th, scoring 71 and finishing on 285, tied with Love. Singh lost a critical shot at the 16th and shot 70, finishing with 284. Curtis was in the clubhouse with 283, and the only other possible winner was Björn. He arrived at the 15th tee three strokes ahead of Curtis but immediately dropped a shot. At the 16th he found sand and twice watched his shot spin back into the bunker. A double bogey 5 ensued.
Now level with Curtis, his drive caught the rough on the right at the 17th and he ended with a bogey five. Björn now needed a birdie to win the Championship. This was not to be and he finished on 284 and Ben Curtis, who was playing in his first Major, was the Open Champion.