Two years later, Curtis in the hunt again

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- We tried to make you a superstar, Ben Curtis. You just wouldn't listen.

When you won the Open Championship two years ago, we rooted for you to pump your fist like Tiger Woods and dance like Rich Beem. You simply held the Claret Jug and smiled.

We sent you to the White House. We put you on Letterman. You looked as if you'd be more comfortable missing the cut at the Reno-Tahoe Open.

So you know what we did, Ben? We forgot about you. We relegated you to a part of our memory banks left for such forgettable major champions as Mark Brooks and Paul Lawrie.

A footnote. The answer to a trivia question. Some guy we vaguely remember.

And what did you do on Thursday? You came back. You shot a 3-under 67 to claim a share of the first-round lead at the PGA Championship.

You made us root for you once again.

To say we didn't expect much from you this week is a gross understatement. We weren't even sure you'd show up. After finishing in third place at last month's Western Open, you played in the British because, well, you had to -- and missed the cut. Since then, you've been AWOL from the PGA Tour. "I stayed home," you said. "Didn't move."

Ah, otherwise known as the Ben Crane approach to golf. But even he hits a golf ball every once in a while.

Of course, we were surprised to see you play so well at the Western. Prior to that, you missed the cut in 12 of 14 U.S. events this season. You had won $22,425. Failed to break 70 since January.

"Golf is a funny game," you said after your bogey-free round Thursday. "It can come and go at any time."

You would know better than anyone, Ben.

After all, you slipped so far from our consciousness that in speaking of the best under-30 players in the world, your name pops up somewhere between Michelle Wie and the bagboy at our club.

And yet, while everyone keeps expecting 20-something phenoms Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott to win their first major, at 28 you're busy working on your second.

You're hardly the most popular Ben Curtis out there. The kid from the computer commercials -- that's right, the "Dude, you're gettin' a Dell!" guy -- shares your name.

And you're also battling for Google space with the guitarist from "Secret Machines," a photojournalist from West Africa and a self-described "Web developer and geek extraordinaire," who, we might add, already has www.BenCurtis.com all to himself.

Although it's not as if something like that would bother you. Lots of attention? Adoring fans? Celeb status?

"I don't know if it was overwhelming, but ... it's always difficult to deal with the first time," you said. "I just try to deal with it day-to-day and not really worry about it."

We know it's a big if Ben, but if you deal with this lead for the next three days and if you can muster up a little of that Royal St. George's magic, well, we might not think of you as just another footnote come Sunday.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com