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Big names left with big questions on the links

By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
July 22, 2003
Where was Jim Mora when Vijay Singh, Thomas Bjorn, Tiger Woods, Davis Love III and their fellow British Open competitors needed him?
Mora, former coach of the New Orleans Saints, authored that famous quote after a game slipped away his team, "Shoulda, coulda and woulda" won if they had played up to their ability.
Shoulda, coulda and woulda is now a sports cliche but never was it more applicable than Sunday afternoon when Ben Curtis won the tournament by one stroke over Singh and Bjorn and by two over Woods and Love. Anyone of those four shoulda, coulda and woulda won if they hadn't tanked out at one point or another during the final 18 holes.
It wasn't as if Curtis blew them away. He had four bogeys on the last seven holes and still won after Bjorn took three to get out of a sandtrap on 16 and Woods could find neither the fairways nor the cup, missing makeable putt after makeable putt, one of them from less than three feet.
In England, where bookmaking is legal, Curtis was a 500-to-1 shot as the tournament began. Betting on him, a rookie who had never finished higher than 10th in a PGA Tournament and was in the field only as a result of finishing in a tie for 13th two weeks ago in the Western Open, would have been as foolish as hitting 19 in a blackjack game just because the dealer had a face card up. In other words it would have made no sense at all.
But for those of you not familiar with life's temptations such as risking money on what fellow human beings might or might not do, for every buck bet on Curtis you would have gotten $500 in return. If you had bet on Tiger, the favorite, and he had won you would have received only a $3 payoff for your risk.
Curtis' father was asked after the final scores were posted if he or other family members had bet anything on their boy to win. The answer was no, proving the champion may have the winner's check of over $1 million but he doesn't have a foolish father.
When play ended and Curtis had kissed his fiance numerous times and held the Claret Jug trophy in a death grip which in actions, if not words, said Don't anyone try to take this from me' I went back to my Sunday newspapers for review.
The Meridian Star logically headlined the Associated Press story reviewing Saturday's play and previewing what to expect on Sunday "Big names chase leader."
I reread it. It contained plenty of big names. Thomas Bjorn, then the leader, was mentioned in the third paragraph. In the fifth were these now immortal words: "Right behind is a roll call of the best players in golf Davis Love III, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Kenny Perry and Sergio Garcia."
Reading on, the AP writer did not make mention of Curtis, not once, even though he was but two strokes behind Bjorn going into Sunday's final 18. He was the only one of the top seven players on the scoreboard who apparently was not worthy of consideration as a potential winner. That may be this year's equivalent of the 1948 Chicago Tribune headline "Dewey beats Truman" in a premature early presidential election results story of that year. Of course, when all was said and done Tom Dewey did not beat Harry Truman and on Sunday afternoon Bjorn, Love, Garcia, Perry, Singh and, most of all, Woods did not beat the unknown from Ohio.
There have been some truly historical upsets in major golf tournaments. Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open when he won the first major championship in which he had ever played. Then there was John Daly after he qualified as the ninth alternate in the 1991 PGA Championship, then won it. There was also the truly shocking victory by Jack Fleck over the fabled Ben Hogan in a playoff for the 1955 U.S. Open title.
This year's British Open ranks right up there with any of them.
Incidentally, to illustrate how time and golfers change, that same John Daly also won the British Open in the mid-90s. This year he was one of the 73 golfers who made the final cut. While Curtis was winning on Sunday, Daly shot an 80 and finished tied for dead last in that group of 73. His final score was 303, 20 strokes out of first place.
Funny, but while Ben Curtis won this championship, the oldest tournament in golf, I'll always remember it as the Jim Mora tournament. Someone else coulda, shoulda and woulda won the 2003 British Open. A number of someone elses, none of them named Ben Curtis.