Most unexpected wins since the turn of the century
Post by Golf Journalist, Nick Bonfield
The most unexpected victories since the turn of the century.
Following on from Padraig Harrignton’s triumph at the Honda Classic, we take a look back at some of the most surprising triumphs – particularly in major championships – since the turn of the millennium. In no particular order…
Padraig Harrington – 2014 Honda Classic
The ever-popular Irishman spent 11 years inside the world’s top 10 between 2000 and 2011 but fell outside the top 300 for the first time in November 2014. The following month, he won his first professional title since 2010 at the Indonesian Open, but even the most optimistic follower of Harrington couldn’t have foreseen what happened at the Honda Classic. Coming into an event with a world-class field having failed to breach the top 56 in his last seven PGA Tour starts, the 43-year old holed a 15-footer for a closing birdie and defeated little-known American Daniel Berger in the subsequent play-off. It was his first PGA Tour victory since the 2008 PGA Championship.
Rich Beem – 2002 USPGA Championship
Rich Beem had won The International two weeks previously, but his triumph at the 2000 PGA Championship was still hugely surprising. He was only making his fourth start in a major championship, with his previous best finish a tie for 70th at the 1999 USPGA. He trailed Justin Leonard by three shots heading into the final round, but stood on the 15th tee four-under-par for the final round. He didn’t only have to deal with the pressure of a situation he’d never found himself in before, but the fact that Tiger Woods had birdied the final four holes to set the clubhouse target on nine-under-par. Unperturbed, Beem holed a 35-footer for birdie on the 16th hole and found the 18th green in two, three-putting for a one-shot lead and his first and only major title.
Ben Curtis – 2003 Open Championship
Two thousand and three was the year of the unexpected major champion. After Mike Weir defeated Len Mattiace in a play-off at The Masters and Jim Fuyrk won the US Open at Olympia Fields, the world’s best players descended upon Royal St George’s in Kent for the Open Championship. One man that certainly wasn’t considered in that bracket was American Ben Curtis, who was making his debut in golf’s most prestigious tournament. Before the event, he was between 500 and 1000/1 with many bookmakers and the world’s 396th-ranked played. Thomas Bjorn led with three holes to play, but took three shots to get out a green-side bunker on the 16th hole, handing the title to Curtis. He was the first player to win en debut at The Open since Tom Watson in 1975.
Shaun Micheel – 2003 USPGA Championship
I can vividly remember staying up late to watch the climax of the 2003 USPGA Championship at Oak Hill. In fact, it was the event that really sparked my interest in golf and took my love of the sport to a different level. Shaun Micheel – ranked well outside the world’s top 100 before the start of the tournament – entered the final round tied for the lead with Chad Campbell. By the 72nd hole, he was one ahead. With Campbell miles down the middle of the fairway, Micheel hit a 7-iron from a poor lie to within inches of the cup, securing his first and only major championship title.
Todd Hamilton – 2004 Open Championship
Todd Hamilton plied his trade very successfully on the Japan Golf Tour for a number of years, but only gained entry to the PGA Tour after coming through Q-School in 2003 at the 8th time of trying. He’d never made a cut in the Open Championship but found himself in a play-off with 2002 champion Ernie Els after the South African missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd green. In the ensuing four-hole play-off, Hamilton defeated Els by a single shot. Since then, he’s played in 10 further Opens, missing five cuts and never breaching the top 30.
Shane Lowry – 2009 Irish Open
Shane Lowry entered the 2009 Irish Open hoping to make the cut as he continued his preparations for the Walker Cup. Even doing that would have been deemed a good achievement in an event that frequently attracts some of the European Tour’s best players. But he fared so much better, and looked to have secured the title when he left himself a three-footer for the victory on the 72nd hole. He missed, but defeated Robert Rock on the third hole of the subsequent play-off. In doing so, he became the just the third amateur to win on the European Tour and the first to win en debut. At the time, the 22-year old said “I know this is potentially life changing.” Well, he got that part right. He’s now one of the world’s best 50 players having earned more than €5m in his professional career.
Lucas Glover – 2009 US Open
Lucas Glover came into the 2009 US Open never having never made the cut in the championship. After a solid start, he shot a tournament-low 64 in the second round to start the final round one stroke behind Rickie Barnes. He was four-over-par on the 16th hole, but hit his approach to six feet for a timely birdie. Barnes continued to falter and his compatriot ended up with a two-stroke victory that moved him to 17th in the world ranking – 66 places higher than he was when he entered the tournament.
YE Yang – 2009 USPGA Championship
While Micheels triumph at the 2003 USPGA really sparked my interest in golf, Yang’s win in 2009 was the singe most enthralling major championship I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Starting the final round two strokes behind Tiger Woods, Yang chipped in for eagle on the 13th hole and hit one of the best shots of all time with a hybrid on the 72nd hole to notch a two-stroke victory. Yang – who started the tournament outside the world’s top 100 – became the first Asian-born major winner, and ended Woods’ record of winning every major when he’d held the 54-hole lead.
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