Rookie wins Open, thanks to the sands of Sandwich

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The Independent Online

An unknown American golfer, Ben Curtis, won the biggest prize in golf when he claimed the Open Championship ahead of Tiger Woods and some of the most revered names in the game in an unimaginable finale on the Sandwich links yesterday.

The 26-year-old, who is in his rookie season at the highest professional level, is believed to be the first player to win a major championship at the first attempt since the teenage amateur Francis Ouimet won the US Open in 1913. Curtis was ranked 396th in the world and began the tournament at 250-1.

Starting the final round two strokes behind the leader, Thomas Bjorn, Curtis was rated at 40-1, odds too good for one punter who waged £1,000 on the most unlikely result in decades. Curtis himself collected £700,000 as well as the old claret jug. "I am from Kent, Ohio," Curtis told the gallery at the presentation on the Kent coast. "You made me feel right at home."

Not even John Daly's victory as the ninth reserve at the USPGA Championship in 1991 and Paul Lawrie coming from 10 strokes back to win the Open four years ago come close to the upset seen yesterday. Curtis had never finished better than 13th on the main professional circuit in America and was known to few of the competitors, let alone the crowd. Even his English caddie, Andy Sutton, from Maidstone, had never heard of him when he received a call from Curtis's agent last week.

Curtis grabbed the lead early in the final round but then fell back. Bjorn, hoping to become Denmark's first major champion, had two reasons to rue the bunkers.

On Thursday he was penalised two shots for smashing his club into the sand in a fit of pique. Yesterday, leading by two, he took three shots to escape from a bunker at the 16th. Bjorn said: "Obviously, I'm disappointed. I thought I did all the right things all day long." His momentary tantrum joins a notorious list of Open Championship cock-ups. On Saturday, the English golfer Mark Roe was disqualified for signing the wrong scorecard. He was tied with Curtis at the time.

Two years ago at Royal Lytham, Ian Woosnam dropped out of contention after discovering - too late - that he had too many clubs in his bag.