The penultimate instalment of our Royal St George’s Recap series looks back at one of the most unpredictable Opens in history.
When Sandwich hosted the Championship in 2003, Thomas Bjorn appeared sure to prevail as he opened up a three-shot lead with four holes of his final round to play.
However, the Dane famously came to grief at Royal St George’s short 16th hole and had to settle for a share of second as Ben Curtis, who began the week ranked 396th in the world, provided a sensational upset.
In ending the week as the only player under par, Curtis stunned the sporting world and became the first player to win in his first major appearance since Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open.
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THE CHAMPION GOLFER OF THE YEAR
To call Curtis an unexpected winner would be an understatement. The PGA Tour rookie began the year ranked outside the world’s top 1000 and had only climbed into the top 500 a fortnight before The Open, courtesy of a tie for 13th at the Western Open that secured his place at Sandwich.
Having never previously played in Britain, Curtis arrived early and sought out local knowledge, even visiting the Royal St George’s pro shop to ask the club professional for advice.
His meticulous preparation, which included practice rounds on the Saturday and Sunday before the Championship, certainly paid off. With the assistance of local caddie Andy Sutton, who he only met for the first time upon his arrival in England, Curtis went on to excel on a fast and bouncy course.
A pair of 72s left him handily placed at the halfway stage, before Curtis shot 70 in round three to share third place behind Bjorn and Davis Love III.
Against all odds, it was then Curtis who proved the strongest of the leading challengers on Sunday. A stunning charge lifted him to six under for the day and five under for the Championship through 11 holes, putting him clear of the field.
Although he faltered with four bogeys on the difficult closing stretch, a gutsy up-and-down for par on the last ultimately proved enough for the Ohio native to secure glory as Bjorn slipped from four under to level par in a thoroughly dramatic denouement.
-1 Ben Curtis (72, 72, 70, 69)
E Thomas Bjorn (73, 70, 69, 72), Vijay Singh (75, 70, 69, 70)
+1 Davis Love III (69, 72, 72, 72), Tiger Woods (73, 72, 69, 71)
+2 Brian Davis (77, 73, 68, 68), Freddie Jacobson (70, 76, 70, 70)
+3 Nick Faldo (76, 74, 67, 70), Kenny Perry (74, 70, 70, 73)
BJORN'S BUNKER MISERY
Bjorn's troubles at the par-3 16th have been well documented. Having bogeyed the previous hole, he found a greenside bunker from the tee and then needed three shots to escape as his first two attempts landed on the putting surface only to roll agonisingly back down a steep slope and into the sand.
Another dropped shot at the 17th saw Bjorn fall behind Curtis and he could not find the birdie he needed on the last.
Yet the trap on 16 that has come to be known as Bjorn’s Bunker was not the only one to provide pain for the Dane as he came so close to a first maiden major title
On day one of the tournament, Bjorn carded a quadruple-bogey eight on the 17th, after incurring a two-stroke penalty due to his club making contact with the sand in a greenside bunker.
That would prove costly at the end of the week, as Bjorn tied for second with Vijay Singh, one adrift of the Champion.
FIRST-HOLE NIGHTMARE COSTS TIGER
World Number One Tiger Woods was another player left to rue an unusually high score on a hole in round one.
Woods suffered badly on the first, where he lost a ball for the first time in his professional career after flaring his opening shot out to the right. After heading back to the tee, he eventually ran up a triple-bogey seven.
In typical Tiger fashion, he fought back impressively to open with a creditable 73 and was out in front by the halfway stage of his third round after eagles at the fourth and seventh.
However, a back-nine 38 on Saturday stymied Woods’ progress and that opening triple-bogey on day one was ultimately significant as he ended the week one over par, two behind Curtis.
FABULOUS FALDO TURNS BACK THE CLOCK
Sir Nick Faldo celebrated his 46th birthday on day two of the Championship before storming into contention the following day, to the delight of the Royal St George’s crowds.
Eleven years on from his third Open win, Faldo showed he was still a force to be reckoned with on a links course as he put together the best score of round three, a 67 that was completed with birdies on 17 and 18.
Having climbed to within five of the lead at four over, the veteran was not finished there. He duly picked up four further shots on the final day to sit at level par with four holes remaining, just one adrift of what would prove to be the winning total.
Like so many others, Faldo then dropped shots over the demanding closing holes, bogeying the 15th, 16th and 17th to finish tied for eighth at three over par. He could still be hugely proud of an impressive week as he recorded his 13th top-10 finish at The Open.
ROE SCORECARD ERROR LEADS TO PAINFUL DQ
Arguably the saddest moment of the Championship came on Saturday, as ecstasy turned to agony for Mark Roe.
The Englishman produced a wonderful third round, matching Faldo’s score of 67 with the aid of a spectacular eagle two on the 13th.
With an aggregate score of one over through 54 holes, Roe looked set to be involved in one of the final groups on Sunday, with the opportunity to achieve the biggest result of his career to date.
However, it then emerged that he and playing partner Jesper Parnevik had inadvertently marked their own scorecards, an error that led to both men being disqualified.
To his immense credit, Roe accepted the heartbreaking news with good grace, telling reporters: “In all honesty you are responsible for your own scorecard. And I’m the only person to blame. The rules are there to protect the game of golf, and that’s why we play the game, because it’s such an honest game and it has so much integrity.”
Had Roe marked his card correctly, he would have played in Sunday's penultimate group with Woods.
Our previous Royal St George’s Recaps are all available to view via the links below.
For more information on The 149th Open at Royal St George’s this July, click here.