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A trip down memory lane

A look back at recent Opens and memorable incidents over the years at one of the world's most iconic golf courses

If there’s half as much drama and intrigue as there was in 2003 when The Open last came to Kent, it will certainly be memorable.

The famous course at Royal St George’s threw up no end of surprises with Tiger Woods and Thomas Bjorn memorably finding links golf a real challenge, but perhaps the biggest shock was when a little known American lifted the Claret Jug.

It’s sometimes a question that crops up in pub quiz: who won the Open Golf Championship when it was last held at Sandwich in 2003? It’s one that stumps more than a few punters.

The answer is Ben Curtis, the American who started the championship a 500-1 outsider, but ended up a one-shot winner from Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn and Fiji’s Vijay Singh, with Woods and Davis Love a further shot back.

Thomas Bjorn loses the 2003 Open in a bunker at the 16thTo say Curtis was a surprise winner is a massive understatement. He had never achieved a top-10 finish on the US PGA Tour before arriving in Kent to play in what was his first major championship, and many of the American media who covered the event knew little about the background of the then 26-year-old.

But by the evening of July 20, 2003, Curtis was £700,000 richer after triumphing in a championship so often remembered more for the players who, for various reasons, didn’t lift the Claret Jug in front of the packed St George’s grandstands that Sunday evening.

In first place in the ‘could and should have done better’ category was Bjorn, the Dane who came to the par-three 16th hole in the final round leading the field by two shots.

His tee shot, however, found one of the greenside bunkers and then Bjorn took three shots to get out of the sand in one of those nightmare moments average club players know all too well, but which shouldn’t happen to players of Bjorn’s ability and experience.

He admitted afterwards: “It was an expensive mistake and I lost the Open on that hole.”

Tiger Woods loses his first tee shot at the 2003 OpenWoods, for his part, could point to a similar costly mistake which happened much earlier in the championship. On the first hole of his opening round he drove into the rough off the tee and lost his ball, even though there were a small army of officials and stewards trying to find it during the permitted five minutes ‘search’ time. So Woods had to hit another ball off the tee and eventually finished the hole with a triple bogey seven. Had Tiger opened with a routine par four, he would have won the championship by one shot.

“The spotters didn’t know where it landed,” he admitted. “The gallery was telling us where they saw the ball go, but we just couldn’t find it.”

And then there was Nick Faldo, who has previous with the Sandwich course. In the epic 1993 Open, Faldo showed scant respect for the course’s ability to make grown men cry. Now Sir Nick, he promoted hysteria among golf aficionados when his tee shot in the fourth round clanged off the flag and stopped inches from the hole.

A moment, he said, he would always savour.

Fast forward 10 years and Faldo was also in genuine contention for his fourth Open championship after seven holes of the final round at Royal St George’s.

He had holed a 40-foot putt for an eagle on the long 7th to move within one shot of the lead, and after 14 holes he stood at level par, which proved to be Curtis’s winning score. But three bogeys at the next three holes ensured Faldo’s seventh major title eluded him, and he eventually finished four shots behind the winner.

It proved to be Faldo’s last serious chance of adding another Open title to his collection, but he still brought the crowd to their feet with a series of extravagant hat-waving gestures walking down the 18th, and also by raising the hand of his longtime caddy Fanny Sunesson as they strode on to the final green together.

It was one of the images that, along with Bjorn standing beleaguered in a bunker and Tiger trudging disconsolately back to the first tee, stay in the memory from the 2003 Championship.

Kent Garden of England

Reproduced with kind permission of KOS Media Ltd and Visit Kent. For further information, go to and


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