Rain extends Curtis' run at Avenel into today

June 26, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

POTOMAC -- It seems a familiar, and fitting, ending for the ill-fated Booz Allen Classic.

A Monday finish.

A few fans.

A decided lack of drama.

That will all be on display today at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel after the final round, delayed by six hours at the start yesterday because of torrential rain and dangerous weather, was suspended last night as another storm moved through the area.

Ben Curtis, trying to become the first wire-to-wire winner here since 1999 and trying to win his first PGA Tour event since the 2003 British Open, has an eight-stroke lead over Padraig Harrington and is nine strokes ahead of five others with seven holes to play.

If he holds on, Curtis will become the second champion of this event in the past four years and the third in six to finish on Monday, joining Rory Sabbatini in 2003 and Frank Lickliter in 2001. It is the first Monday finish on the PGA Tour since last year's PGA Championship.

Play is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. - weather permitting.

Asked if it will be difficult to sleep on the lead for a fourth straight night, Curtis said: "It's not easy, but obviously I'm playing well, so I feel pretty comfortable. I know if I continue to hit fairways and greens, I should be all right. I tossed and turned a little last night, but nothing major."

Curtis, 29, is not starting to count the $900,000 he will get for first place.

"It's easy to get caught in that, but I'm not going to think that because somebody could birdie the last four holes and the next thing you know it's a four-shot lead," he said. "It depends on what happens on 12. Make bogey or double [bogey] and it's a whole new ballgame."

Curtis, who at 23-under par through 65 holes has a chance to break the tournament scoring record of 21-under, left the course after one of the worst shots he had made all week. His 4-iron approach on the par-4 12th went into a creek near the green, and Curtis is looking at a rare bogey. Or worse.

Until now, Curtis has put together a string of 34 straight holes without a bogey. Helped by the return of his putting stroke that led to an opening-round 62, Curtis made a curling 10-footer for par on the par-4 first hole and later made a 15-footer to save par on the par-4 eighth.

"I just wanted to get off to a good start," said Curtis, who saw his five-stroke lead become six when playing partner Brett Quigley bogeyed the first hole. "Obviously the birdie on 2 helped."

The birdie on the par-5 second was the first of three in five holes for Curtis, and it was only a question of how big a victory he would carve for himself. Though he likely won't reach Phil Mickelson's 13-stroke win earlier this year, or his own 17-stroke win in an Ohio Amateur, Curtis' performance has been impressive.

It comes at a time when Curtis has made cuts but little money. His best finish this year was a tie for 20th at two early events. He came into Avenel ranked 142nd on the money list with $256,611. Though he still has two years left on his five-year exemption from his surprise win at Royal St. George's, winning this will help his confidence.

"Hopefully for me it's obviously a step in the right direction where I can dote on it and maybe get a few more wins," said Curtis, who also hopes to be doting on his first child that is due in September.

However, Curtis might not be able to come back to defend his title, since the tournament's future is in doubt after Booz Allen, which has sponsored the event for the past three years, announced last month that it was withdrawing from that role.

"It's sad to see a tournament leave that's been here for so long, but that's the way it goes," Curtis said. "I wish I could do something about it, but that's something the tour deals with. Let them do their jobs. They do a great job. Hopefully this will be the start of something good for me."

Ben Brundred Jr., who served as the general chairman of the tournament when it was called the Kemper Open and now is chairman of the tournament's board of governors, remains cautiously optimistic that a PGA Tour event will be played at Avenel or in the Washington area in the fall of 2007.

Brundred said yesterday that he spoke with an official from another prominent local company Saturday and was encouraged by their conversation.

"I'd say it's 50-50," Brundred. said

Probably not as good as Curtis winning today. That seems a lock, but who ever thought the Kemper Open would disappear?

Notes -- Tournament officials announced last night that there would be no admission charge for today's play and that all parking would be on site. ... The Golf Channel will show the conclusion of the final round beginning at 8 a.m.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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