When Ben Curtis won the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George’s, with an assist from a bunker-beaten Thomas Björn, he was ranked No. 396 in the world and the line of
people willing to attach the “fluke” label to the claret jug
was out the door and around the block. The championship
should have been won by Björn, or at least Vijay Singh.
How dare he, at age 26, make golf’s oldest tournament his
first professional victory?
Curtis, who has the reserve and humility of his Midwestern roots, did little to dispel that notion over the next
couple of seasons. But when the Ohioan won twice in 2006
and made the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team, he re-emerged
as a legitimate contender. Another major would come as
no surprise, it appeared, an idea reinforced by top- 10 finishes at the British Open in 2007 and ’08 and a T- 2 at the
’08 PGA Championship. And then it all stopped.
There were no more victories after he won the 84
Lumber Classic Sept. 17, 2006—that is until Sunday at the
Valero Texas Open when Curtis ended a winless drought
that stretched back 118 PGA Tour events with a two-stroke win over Matt Every and John Huh, his final-round
playing partners. Curtis’ closing 72 to get to nine-under-par 279 was not pretty, but it was gritty and efficient,
which pretty much sums up his style of play.
Some will try to devalue the victory, just as they did his
triumph at Royal St. George’s, this time by saying the winless streak ended in a tournament that had only No. 15 Matt
Kuchar and No. 26 K.J. Choi among the top 50 players
in the world. But no field is easy when you are trying to
win for the first time in five and one-half years, and what
Curtis went through on the weekend at an extremely difficult AT&T Oaks course at TPC San Antonio mirrored his
recent struggles. He hung in and was tough at the end.
On Sunday, Every, Huh and even Bob Estes, the 1994
champ here who closed with a 69 to tie Charlie Wi, Brian
Gay and last year’s winner Brendan Steele for fourth place
26 april 30, 2012 � GOlfWORld.cOm
a 73 on the
at 283, were only a couple of putts away
from snatching the title from Curtis. Estes
seemed as if he had a makable birdie put
on every hole of the back nine. “Almost
took it deep today!” he tweeted Sunday
night. “My ball just didn’t want to go in the
hole on the back 9.”
In part because the Greg Norman-designed Oaks course
greens are so treacherous, with multiple tiers, and in part
perhaps because of nerves, there were a lot of missed putts
over the final nine holes. “You know, [it was] kind of a pillow
fight there for awhile between the three of us,” said Every,
who missed five putts inside 12 feet on the back nine.
“I missed a few short ones. I was really nervous
probably, why I missed one,” said Every, who began the
tournament Thursday with a course-record 63—more
than 10 strokes below the playing average for the week.
Neither he nor Curtis made a birdie on the closing nine
until Ben made a 12-footer on No. 18 when he needed only
two putts for the win.
But Curtis made the biggest putt of the day: A 23-foot
par-save on No. 17, protecting a one-stroke lead after thin-ning a wedge from a divot into the collection area behind
the green, which left a chip Curtis described as the hardest shot he had all week.
“I told myself, ‘Like wow, that’s a pretty big mistake right
there,” Huh said about Curtis’ thinned approach. “He didn’t
really pitch it too close, but he made the putt. I think that
[was] the clutch putt right there, 17.” Huh, who closed with
a 69 and 33 on the back, lipped out birdie putts on Nos. 15
and 17 as he finished the strongest of the final threesome.
When asked if he ever considered that he might not win
again, Curtis was, as always, honest and straightforward.
“You always have that thought, maybe, going through
your head but you try to think that’s not the case,” he said.
“You know, if you get to three, four, five wins, you’re a solid
player. I just felt like, yeah, you get yourself in contention