- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SANDWICH, ENGLAND (AP) - Ben Curtis is no fluke.

At least not now.

After winning the British Open eight years ago at Royal St. George’s as a rookie, Curtis has gone on to win twice more on the PGA Tour. He played on a winning Ryder Cup team (not many Americans can say that). And he nearly won another major in the 2008 PGA Championship until two bad tee shots over the last five holes made him a runner-up, two shots behind Padraig Harrington.

Some players wouldn’t mind a career like that.

Even so, any conversation about a “fluke” winner at a major invariably includes Curtis, and he’s probably higher on any such list than he should be.

What made Curtis such a surprise in 2003 at Royal St. George’s was that not many outside his immediate family knew who he was. That included the local caddie he hired for the week, Andy Sutton, who’s first reaction to being told of an American in need of a caddie replied, “Ben who?”

Then again, Curtis was a 26-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour. He only got into the British Open two weeks prior with a tie for 13th in the Western Open, his best finish of the year. He was No. 396 in the world ranking. And he was playing his first major.

By all accounts, that’s the very definition of a surprise.

A big surprise.

The harshest comment that week came from Davis Love III. He was frustrated like so many others by the goofy bounces at Royal St. George’s, and when Curtis was holding the claret jug, Love said, “The Open got exactly the champion it deserved.”

An unpredictable links, a winner no one imagined.

Curtis felt at times as though people expected an apology from him. The leaderboard featured an All-Star cast of contenders, from Vijay Singh to Tiger Woods, from Love to Kenny Perry. And the championship belonged to Thomas Bjorn until he took three shots to escape a greenside bunker on the 16th and squandered a two-shot lead on Sunday.

“It didn’t really bother me what other people thought,” he said. “I know what I did that week.”

He had the lowest score, which all that ever counts.

What makes Curtis stand out is that he was on the practice range, having finished well before the final group, when Bjorn made par on the last hole and Sutton leaned out of the scoring trailer next to the range and said, “Ben, you’re the Open champion.”

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