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2003 - Year of Major surprises

Tiger Woods may have won the Player of the Year award for the fifth consecutive year but 2003 proved to be the year of the nobodys.

And nobody was more of a nobody than shock British Open winner Ben Curtis.

The 26-year-old became the first man since Tom Watson in 1975 to win the Open at the first attempt.

But Curtis owes a huge debt of thanks to Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who had one hand on the Claret Jug before letting it all slip away from him on the closing holes at Royal St George's.

Bjorn bogeyed the 15th, double-bogeyed the 16th after needing three attempts to get out of a greenside bunker, bogeyed the 17th by missing a five-foot putt and then parred the last and a stunned Curtis was the Open champion.

"I came here just trying to play the best I could and I would have been happy just to make the cut," said Curtis.

For the American, who has decided to play the European Tour next year, it was a life-saver. Before winning the Open, he was likely headed back to qualifying school to try and keep his 2004 Tour card.

If Curtis fell into major history because of someone else's misfortune the same could not be said of another nobody who picked up the PGA Championship -- the last major of the season.

Unheralded Shaun Micheel hit the shot of his life to have himself crowned winner.

The 34-year-old American hit his 7-iron approach 175 yards out of the light rough to within two inches of the 18th flag for a tap-in birdie to kill off main rival and playing partner Chad Campbell.

It was a stunning end to a nerve-wracking final few holes as Micheel and Campbell went head to head as they both looked for their first PGA Tour win.

"A month ago I was playing to save my card," admitted Micheel.

Like Curtis, Micheel admitted that victory was the last thing on his mind when he arrived at Oak Hill Country Club.

"I turned up Tuesday and when I saw how diffcult the course was I was just trying to make the cut," said the 34-year-old.

A hint of what was in store for the season came at the Masters when Canada's Mike Weir became only the second lefty in history to win a major.

The only other left-handed golfer to win a major was Bob Charles, who took the British Open in 1963.

It was a letter from Jack Nicklaus to a 13-year-old left-hander that gave Weir an earlier push toward his victory nearly two decades later in a dramatic one-hole playoff with unheralded Len Mattiace.

The 32-year-old revealed that as a child he had written to Nicklaus asking if he should switch from left-handed to playing right-handed.

"He wrote back and said, 'Stick to your natural swing.' I still have that letter," said Weir, who became a national hero after becoming the first Canadian to win a major.

The list of first-time major winners was completed at the U.S. Open when Jim Furyk, with perhaps the game's most unconventional swing, wrote himself into the history books.

The 33-year-old did club golfers the world over a favorite when he warned -- don't copy my swing.

Former tour pro turned TV pundit David Ferherty once described the Furyk action as a man trying to kill a snake in a phone booth.

Furyk admitted his swing has always been considered strange, but no one ever tried to tell him when he was a teenager he had to change it if he ever wanted to make a life as a professional golfer.

"I never actually ever had anyone recommend that I make swing changes, probably for the reason you'd have to be a pretty cold person to walk up to a 15-year-old and tell him his swing stinks.

"My dad was my teacher, so he heard it. He took some criticism, he took some blame that my swing was awkward and they didn't feel it would hold up on Tour," explained Furyk.

But it was a woman who made the story of the year.

Annika Sorenstam made worldwide headlines when she played on the men's tour at the Colonial tournament. She failed to make the cut but it was a courageous move by the 33-year-old, who stressed she was not trying to make a statement but simply fulfilling a personal challenge to see how she could do against the men.

She had seven worldwide victories, set or tied 22 LPGA records, won the money list for a third successive year and was the LPGA Player of the Year for the sixth time.

Sorenstam was also inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and ended the season by finishing second to Fred Couples in the Skins Game.

"If you measure a year in the amount of victories, last year I won more," she said.

"But the experiences I had this year and obviously the Colonial, that's the greatest thing that will ever happen to me.

"It was like a fairy tale and I didn't want it to end. I think it's the best year I've ever had. I have wonderful memories."

For Woods, still by far the best player in the world, the season was hampered by suggestions he was in a slump despite having the highest winning percentage (5 of 18, 27.8 percent) of anyone.

He admits it bothered him.

"Of course it did," said the world No. 1.

His confession was a first. Finally Woods has owned up that he can be rattled. That can only spell good news for Ernie Els and the rest chasing to catch up with him.

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