Rain-soaked title worth three-day wait for Curtis

'03 British champ gets 2nd PGA win

Booz Allen Classic

June 28, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

POTOMAC -- The circumstances of Ben Curtis' two PGA Tour victories could not have been any different.

The first, coming in the 2003 British Open, took place at venerable Royal St. George's before a crowd of 37,000 boisterous fans on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with Curtis watching as some of golf's biggest names hacked up the last few holes to hand a then-unknown 26-year-old rookie a one-stroke win and the coveted Claret Jug.

The second came yesterday, in the Booz Allen Classic, at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel, before empty corporate tents, disconnected electronic leader boards and an intimate group that included family members, media, groundskeepers and a handful of players, with Curtis finishing out the last two holes of an interminable, rain-drenched, lame-duck tournament.

"It was a huge difference," said Curtis, 29, who won by five strokes after a couple of closing bogeys. "It was just amazing that we got it done. I feel about as good as I did when I won the Open. Everything I've been through and all the hard work. There, it was kind of unexpected. Here, I expected to win [after getting a big lead]. It just took three years too long."

Curtis, who led from the time he posted an opening round of 9-under-par 62 Thursday and had an eight-stroke lead when play was halted Sunday night, finished at 20-under. He was one stroke shy of tying the tournament scoring record, after a final round of 1-under 70 that took parts of three days to complete.

"There was a lot of pressure that comes with winning," said Curtis, who earned $900,000 with the victory. "I think I will deal with it a little better. If I get in the position to win again, I think I will handle it better."

Andrew Sutton, who first met and caddied for Curtis at Royal St. George's, said yesterday that he believes the second win will serve Curtis as well, if not better, than the first.

"To him, I think it's huge. They always say the second one is harder than the first one," said Sutton, who had caddied on the European Tour for 17 years before meeting Curtis. "He's come here on a good course, a good tournament, it might not be the strongest field in the world, but he's annihilated it. He's going to feel just as happy with this one as the first one, I would say."

Curtis is now the only American player in his 20s besides Vaughn Taylor with two PGA Tour wins, and the only American in that age group with a major championship on his resume. That seems a lot better than a player who has missed the cut at seven of his past 10 majors, made only eight of 24 cuts last year and had finished no better than a tie for 40th in his previous six events.

"He was maybe frustrated," said Candace Curtis, who met her future husband while they played on the golf teams at Kent State University and is expecting the couple's first child in September. "It was a matter of when is it going to show up."

It showed up last week, when Curtis wrote down a putting tip in his yardage book to stand taller and swing the putter more slowly. The putts started falling - before the rain - and didn't stop until the latter stages of the final round.

In becoming the first wire-to-wire winner of the event since 1999 and only the second in the 38-year history of an event that began as the Kemper Open and is now without a title sponsor, Curtis didn't seem to mind the first Tuesday finish on the PGA Tour since 1980.

"I just wanted to finish," he said. "Anyone that plays the game, they don't want to be a 54-hole winner. Obviously, you won't complain about it, but I think if you have a choice to play 72 holes, you want to play 72 holes. It tests you mentally and how tough you are playing down the stretch with the lead. I wanted to do that."

After plucking his ball out of the cup on the 18th green, Curtis briefly pumped his fists. Curtis bowed to the groundskeepers sitting quietly - and tiredly - in the bleachers behind the hole.

"They did a wonderful job of getting the course ready," Curtis said. "They worked harder than we did getting this tournament done."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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