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Bjorn’s Collapse Costs Him Claret Jug

July 21, 2003

SANDWICH, England (AP) _ Thomas Bjorn strolled to the 18th green at Royal St. George’s to receive his prize.

It wasn’t the one he expected.

The Dane had a two-shot lead in the British Open with three holes to play Sunday, then gave it away by taking three shots to escape a pot bunker.

At the end, they gave the claret jug to Ben Curtis, an obscure American who defeated Bjorn and Vijay Singh by one stroke.

When Bjorn trudged to the green to pick up the runner-up medal, his eyes were dazed and empty. He knew he had ``one hand on the trophy and let it go.″

Now, he’s got to learn to live with it.

``I certainly feel like I deserve a little bit more than I got this week,″ Bjorn said. ``I’m sure it’s going to be tough the next few days.″

He joined that infamous cast of players who had a major championship in their grasp _ and let it slip away.

Jean Van de Velde remains the chapter president. He went to the final hole of the 1999 Open with a three-stroke lead, made triple bogey and lost to Paul Lawrie in a three-way playoff.

Van de Velde was on hand at Royal St. George’s as a television commentator, his career in shambles since that collapse at Carnoustie.

``Thomas has got it inside him,″ the Frenchman said. ``He will have other chances. I’m pretty sure he will come back.″

Maybe not.

Van de Velde hasn’t come close to recapturing his Carnoustie magic.

Others have wasted chances at a major once _ and never again.

Scott Hoch missed an 18-inch putt that would have won the 1989 Masters and still doesn’t have a major on his resume.

Doug Sanders has to go through life without a prestigious title after blowing a 2-foot putt on the 72nd hole of the 1970 British Open.

Now comes Bjorn.

``He was there. He had it,″ Van de Velde said. ``What can you say? I can’t say anything.″

Bjorn played as well as anyone on the lumps and hollows of Royal St. George’s. He had made only two bogeys in 44 holes when he went to No. 15 at 4 under for the tournament.

Then came trouble. His tee shot skidded into a pot bunker, forcing him to hit out sideways just to get back on the fairway. He wound up taking bogey.

``Fifteen was the key more than anything,″ Bjorn said. ``I hit a fairway bunker and all of a sudden I’ve let a three-shot lead go.″

But bogey didn’t seem so bad one hole later.

Bjorn thought he hit a decent tee shot at the par-3 16th, but the ball faded right _ the one place not to go _ and plopped into a bunker. He took one whack at it, sand flying as the ball landed short of the flag.

Too short, it turned out.

Failing to clear a ledge on the sloping green, the ball slipped into reverse. It didn’t stop until it was back at Bjorn’s feet.

Another blast, a nearly identical result.

Finally, Bjorn struck the ball hard enough to keep it on the green, but the damage was done. The double bogey knocked him back to 1 under, his lead swallowed up by the sand.

Curtis already was in the clubhouse with a 1-under 283. The Dane still had two more holes to play, two of the toughest on the course.

At 17, he drove into the rough, came up short of the green, chipped 6 feet past the cup and missed the putt. Essentially, the tournament was over. Only one player made birdie at the final hole all day.

``When he got that bogey, I knew we had won,″ said Curtis’ caddie, Andrew Sutton.

Bjorn drove into the rough again at 18, couldn’t reach the green and needed to hole out with a wedge to force a playoff. The ball curled right of the cup.

Curtis, ranked No. 396 in the world, was the British Open champion. Bjorn, who has won seven times on the European Tour, was forced to settle for runner-up status along with Vijay Singh.

``I am disappointed, but I have come a long way in three or four weeks,″ said Bjorn, who decided to rebuild his swing a month ago. ``I played some of the best golf of my life this week.″

The 32-year-old Dane was taught the game by his mother and is known on the European tour for his dry sense of humor. One of Tiger Woods’ best friends, Bjorn occasionally plays practice rounds with the world’s best player.

``That’s all he talks about with major championships _ patience, patience, patience,″ Bjorn has said.

If only he followed that advice in the first round, when his temper got the best of him at the 17th. In a precursor to his Sunday woes, Bjorn failed to get out of a back bunker, slammed the wedge in disgust and was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club.

He wound up with a quadruple bogey. Those two strokes would have come in handy Sunday, though Bjorn was in no mood to look back.

``Every player in the field can say they did something that cost them,″ he said. ``You’ve got to look at what I did today.″

That memory may stick with him for a while. Even the winner’s caddie felt like the wrong man was holding the claret jug.

``Thomas deserves it,″ Sutton said. ``If there was any fairness, Thomas should have won.″

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