Iconic Open Moments
Bjorn in the bunker at Royal St George's in 2003
The 2003 Open was the 13th time Royal St George’s had hosted the Championship. And it certainly proved unlucky for Thomas Bjorn.
The man they call the Great Dane was left feeling as sick as a dog after letting a major slip through his fingers like sand.
Ask any golf fan about that 2003 tournament, and Bjorn’s bunker blow on 16 is just as likely to come up as Ben Curtis’ unlikely win.
Bjorn lives in Dubai for half the year. And yet for a man who has made his home in the sand, it was his worst enemy on that fateful Sunday.
The precursor to the collapse
There had been warning signs, despite the way Bjorn appeared to be breezing through Sunday, extending an overnight lead to two shots with three holes to play.
Back on Thursday in the first round, the Dane had bunker problems at the 17th, struck the sand in frustration after a fluffed chip and immediately incurred a two-shot penalty.
He marked his card for an eight at that par four, and his Championship hopes looked to over before they had begun.
A timely recovery
But by the time Sunday rolled around, Bjorn looked more than ready to make the leap to becoming a major champion.
Runner-up to a peerless Tiger Woods at St Andrews in 2000, and then tied for eighth only two shots back from Ernie Els at Muirfield in 2002, now it was his turn.
And when he struck his approach pin high at the 14th to make birdie, that appeared to be the final twist in an insane Sunday where the little known Curtis had started like a train, Woods had risen in the middle and now Bjorn, the overnight leader after Saturday’s 69, was going to finish the job.
BBC commentator Peter Alliss suspected as much, saying on 14: ‘Is that the shot of the champion? He appears to be oozing quiet confidence and it is a joy to watch.’
Still in control
And yet no sooner had Bjorn put one hand on the trophy, then his grip began to slip.
It started on 15, when his drive found a fairway bunker. But with a two-shot lead and only three holes to go, the Dane composed himself nicely.
He chipped out sideways onto the fairway, banged in a decent approach and scrambled well to keep his losses to a bogey.
He still led by a shot from Curtis, and two from playing partner Davis Love III, with Woods and Vijay Singh hovering too.
But it was 16 where Bjorn’s world came tumbling down.
Love III had the honour on the par three 163-yard hole – that had only seen eight birdies.
The American showed Bjorn the way, firing his tee shot just to the left of the flag, in with a decent birdie chance and avoiding the yawning bunker to the right.
But if Bjorn had struggled anywhere that week in Sandwich, it was on the short holes.
And with his six-iron at the ready, he appeared in a rush on the tee. Without so much as a practice swing, he stepped up and fired.
Even so, it was just a hair off line, three feet left and he was going straight at the flag. But on such small margins are majors won and lost and the ball leaked right and rolled off the green, swallowed up by the bunker that had claimed Singh’s ball not ten minutes before in the group ahead.
Marooned in the sand
Even so, the shot he was left with was hardly the toughest in the world.
With a decent lie and plenty of green to work with, he just had to get it out far enough to avoid the downslope that could bring the ball back to him.
But the Dane was spiralling now, and his first escape attempt never looked hard enough.
The wind blew the sand in his eyes, but the real injury was the ball disobediently rolling back to his feet.
Second time around and Bjorn at least avoided the sand in the eyes, but the ball was back at his feet once more, and this time it has plugged in his footprints.
‘Very sad indeed’
The crowd are stunned. So are the commentary team. ‘Well this is very sad indeed,’ is all that Alliss can manage.
But a cheer starts to break out on the South Coast, ‘Come on Tom!’ they cry and ironically enough, Bjorn hits a fine third attempt, the toughest of the lot, very close and confidently rattles in the putt for double bogey.
Three shots have gone in two holes, while up ahead Curtis has rolled in a gutsy par putt at the last.
The two are now tied at one under, but the difference is the American is in the clubhouse while Bjorn still has the two toughest holes on the course to come.
Par-par is not a given at 17 and 18, and even that would only have got him in a play-off.
But the debacle on 16 is too much to come back from.
On 17 he drops another shot, a firm par putt just falling to the right after a decent chip attempt ran past.
And then, needing a birdie on 18 he can’t make the green in regulation, and the crown is Curtis’.
Bjorn had looked in total control not an hour before. And now his best-ever chance at a major was gone, in the blink of an eye.
"It was an expensive mistake," he managed afterwards.
"You have to be totally ready, mentally. It came too fast. It was a hard moment. I played wonderful golf, but I let it slip.
"I stood on the 15th tee with one hand on that trophy, and I let it go.
"I tried to hit every shot into the middle of the green all day but I just got one there [on 16] that got caught on the wind and just leaked off right into the bunker.
"A couple of yards left and it's to within three feet.
"And then I just hit a couple of poor bunker shots at the wrong time.
"But that's the way Open golf is. I had my good breaks this week but I had a bad one there.
"You live with it and you move on. I know now that I'm on my way back to the game I know I can play. I know I have majors in me.”