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Tearful homecoming for Ben Curtis

Clutching the claret jug, Ben Curtis, the newest and most improbable Open champion, returned home Monday to tears, applause and signs proclaiming him ``Big Ben.''

Curtis was surrounded by cameras as he visited with friends and family at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. About 25 people were waiting for his return from London.

``This is awesome,'' said Curtis, who appeared overwhelmed by the number of well-wishers at the airport baggage claim.

On Sunday, the 26-year-old became the first player since 1913 to win a major golf championship on his first try.

With his fiancee by his side, he said he realizes his life won't be the same after one of golf's biggest upsets.

On the flight home, Curtis upgraded his coach seats to first class and was constantly asked for autographs. He said he spent Sunday night talking business with his agent over pizza and drinks.

But when asked how money would change him, Curtis promised to stay the same.

``It's not going to change me, I'll be cheap as always,'' he said.

Curtis said he was flying to New York on Monday night to make an appearance on NBC's ``Today'' and possibly other shows.

Family and friends wearing freshly printed T-shirts that read ``Big Ben'' were excited to see Curtis.

``I'm very proud,'' said Doug Joseph, Curtis' high school golf coach. ``It couldn't have happened to a better kid.''

Joseph, who coached Curtis from 1992-96 at Buckeye Valley High School in central Ohio, was among those holding signs at the airport. Joseph's poster said, ``Mill Creek: Home of the 2003 British Open Champion,'' referring to the Curtis family's golf course in Ostrander.

Larry Mosca drove from Curtis' hometown of Kent, about 28 miles southeast of Cleveland, with friends and family of the golfer's fiancee, Candace Beatty.

``It's amazing. It's a wonderful thing,'' Mosca said while clutching a ``Big Ben No. 1'' poster.

Beatty's mother, Diane, wore one of the T-shifts with Curtis' color photograph on the front. The family was looking forward to celebrating the championship and the upcoming wedding, she said.

``It's going to be two special occasions,'' she said. ``I'm amazed. I guess I'm in awe. I knew he could do it. It was just a matter of time.''


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