Ben Curtis is the golfer who choked but still won.


Ben Curtis is the golfer who choked but still won. Thomas Bjorn, you see, choked even more. If life was always like this, Devon Loch would have won the Grand National even after doing the splits. The last nine holes of this Open Championship were an elaborate exercise in throwing it all away. For Curtis, a 500-1 shot before this tournament began, the boomerang came back.

This takes some getting used to, because it breaks all the rules. Usually, golf punishes people for dropping four shots inside six holes (Bjorn himself surrendered four between the 15th and the 17th). It hangs them in a gallery without light; it casts doubt on their mental fortitude. Think Jean Van de Velde and his rolled-up trousers. Choking, an entirely understandable reaction to stress and scrutiny, snatches the Claret Jug away and hands it to someone else. From the 11th, where he led by two from Bjorn, Curtis did less and less — but not so much less that anyone was able to take it off him. His was the ultimate reprieve.

Picture this. While Tiger Woods is explaining into a camera his latest failure to come from behind on the final day to win a major championship, a buggy pulls up and off jumps a 26-year-old Open champion who turned professional only three years ago; who qualified only a fortnight back with a 13th-place finish at the Western Open; who hadn't played in any previous major; and who would have spent the week preparing for his wedding month had he not found himself winning golf's most illustrious prize instead.

Not that the champ was ever a chump. In 2000, Golfweek magazine rated him the world's No 1 amateur. But even the Americans were at a loss to provide much biographical detail. Hence the absence of a commotion when he passed the spot where Woods was conducting an autopsy on his own round. Curtis' first reward was a protracted hug from his fiancee, Candace, who revealed his penchant for heavy metal but not much else. AC/DC was one of the bands she mentioned. Alternating current — just like his last seven holes.

"Oh, man. That's about all I can say right now," Curtis said when he walked into the press conference tent. "I was shaking in my boots, obviously."

This is how it will be remembered: a man shaking in his shoes but not falling out. Can you imagine what he might have been like in a play-off? To vibrate with nerves was no more than his entitlement: his right as a debutant. If Woods, Davis Love, Vijay Singh and Bjorn can all fail to impose themselves on a final Open round, it ought to be within our scope to understand how a rookie with no top-10 finishes rattled in his boots. Curtis had never been to England before.

Hold the front page. Woods has a flaw which will encourage Jack Nicklaus to believe he can hang on to his record of 18 major championship victories. Woods' campaign to get back on the roster of serving major champions had begun in the ryegrass, Yorkshire fog, false oat-grass and cock's foot which sways either side of the first fairway: down in the deep rough where the voles, field mice and shrews had their domestic peace disturbed by the world's foremost sportsman thrashing around in search of his ball.

A kestrel would have struggled to recover the world No. 1's very first shot in the 132nd Open championship. Dumbfounded, we watched him take a buggy ride back to the start for a second go, and then scrawl a triple-bogey seven on his scorecard with 71 holes still to play.

Whatever time steals from him, the ability not to panic will probably be the last to go. Spot which way the arrow is pointing in Woods' first three rounds of 73, 72 and 69. His final round, though, was a 71, which casts further doubt on his capacity to win big golf tournaments when others lead the way into the final 18 holes.

Woods started the final round one over par, two shots off the lead. This time the driver stayed in the bag and out came the two-iron. No danger to voles and shrews with this one. The crack of his opening tee shot was like one of the thunderclaps of the night before. Woods was coming. Surely he would devour the lesser mortals in his path. He birdied the fourth, sixth and seventh holes to go two under par. History was back on the march. Singh was nailing birdies, too: a hat-trick at the fifth, sixth and seventh, before his control deserted him in mid-round. Neither made headway on the back nine. A birdie and a bogey left Woods marooned on 285, just two strokes behind the winner.

Democracy is here. Woods is no longer tyrannising the golf tour. Here is a list of the current major champions. US Open - Jim Furyk; US PGA - Rich Beem; Masters - Mike Weir; Open - Ben Curtis. Choking is no longer fatal. Life is kind.

The scores (British Open,7,106-yard, par-71 Royal St. George's Club Course): Ben Curtis, United States 72-72-70-69 — 283; Vijay Singh, Fiji 75-70-69-70 — 284; Thomas Bjorn, Denmark 73-70-69-72 — 284; Tiger Woods, United States 73-72-69-71 — 285; Davis Love III, United States 69-72-72-72 — 285; Brian Davis, England 77-73-68-68 — 286; Fredrik Jacobson, Sweden 70-76-70-70 — 286; Nick Faldo, England 76-74-67-70 — 287; Kenny Perry, United States 74-70-70-73 — 287; Hennie Otto, South Africa 68-76-75-69 — 288; Retief Goosen, South Africa 73-75-71-69 — 288; Gary Evans, England 71-75-70-72 — 288; Phillip Price, Wales 74-72-69-73 — 288; Sergio Garcia, Spain 73-71-70-74 — 288.

Copyright, Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2003