FARMINGTON, Pa. -- Ben Curtis excels in taking home the best
possible going-away presents from disappearing PGA Tour events.
Curtis, start-to-finish steady on a day when the leaderboard was
filled with much higher scores than the previous three days,
claimed a lame-duck tour event for the second time in three months
by winning the 84 Lumber Classic by two shots Sunday.
Not only preserving his lead but building on it down the
stretch, Curtis broke out of a four-way tie for the lead at the
turn with Charles Howell III, Robert Garrigus and Ryan Moore by
relying on a hot putter for three birdies in a span of five holes
from No. 12 through No. 16.
But it was a par may have won it for him, and the $828,000 first
prize for finishing at 14-under 274, two ahead of Howell. Curtis
finished with a 2-under 70 to Howell's even-par 72.
Curtis flew a shot over the par-4 14th green and onto a grassy,
uphill apron that left him with an extremely difficult shot. But he
used a utility club -- the same one that helped him win the 2003
British Open -- to roll it to about 12 feet, then sank that putt to
save par and stay in the lead.
"It was a very difficult shot, and I had three different clubs
out, I think," he said. "I ended up using the rescue club -- the
ball was in a divot and I was trying to get it up and over the
hill. If it went over the green, no big deal. You've got to deal
with what you've got and I hit a great chip and I was fortunate to
make the putt."
He went up by three shots by dropping a 13-footer on No. 15,
when Howell three-putted from 49 feet, then effectively won it by
sinking a 50-footer on the par-5 16th. That allowed him to
withstand a bogey on No. 17, a par 3.
"Ben and I have played against each other since we were
probably 14, maybe 13, in the old America Junior events," Howell
said. "So we've known each other forever. I knew he'd be a tough
guy to beat because he's so consistent."
Curtis' putter won it for him as the temperature climbed into
the 70s and rain-soaked greens dried up for the first time all
week, meaning shots to the green didn't stick like they did during
the first three rounds. As a result, there were only six scores in
the 60s on Sunday, compared to 29 on Saturday.
"I wish I could putt like that every week," Curtis said. "It
boils down to putting out here."
Curtis, who lives in eastern Ohio only 2½ hours or so from the
course, won cheers from the Pittsburgh-area gallery by wearing
black and gold colors for the fourth day in a row -- he is an avowed
Browns fan who normally despises the Steelers. The former Kent
State golfer won his third career title by holding off 17 others
who began the day within four shots of the lead.
Some fans chanted "Here we go Steelers, here we go!" when
Curtis walked past, but the frown on his face revealed his true
colors -- namely brown, orange and white.
"I'm going to get my Browns hat out," he said.
If any more events disappear from the PGA Tour schedule, look
for Curtis to be the favorite in their final tournament.
Curtis won the last Booz Allen Classic in late June, his first
victory since that British Open, and then won the fourth and last
84 Lumber Classic. The tournament was supposed to move from its
less-visible mid-September dates to June 2007, but will be replaced
by an Hartford-area event.
"That's a tough one to take," Curtis said. "You always wonder
how you will handle defending a title."
Curiously, he can't defend either of his two 2006 championships,
which represent his only two top-10 finishes all year. He has only
two others in the top 20.
84 Lumber officials apparently balked at signing a six-year
contract to continue the tournament, but lumber company and
tournament founder Joe Hardy said Sunday he expects the event might
be revived in the near future.
"It's a shame it'll be the last round we play here," Howell
This figures to be a very big week for Curtis, whose wife,
Candace, is due to give birth any day to the couple's first child.
Curtis is so eagerly awaiting the birth, he planned to skip the
final round if his wife went into labor Sunday morning.
Not only did that not happen, Candace startled her husband by
driving in from Ohio for the final round and walked onto the No. 18
green to give him a congratulatory hug.
"I got a little surprise from my wife," Curtis said.
Curtis wears NFL colors as part of an endorsement contract
with Reebok. ... Of the three Ryder Cup golfers left in the field,
only Chris DiMarco (3 under) was below par. ... Howell, who took
home $496,800, also finished second in New Orleans. ... Brett
Quigley was third, three shots back, and won $312,800. ...
Garrigus, a 2005 qualifying school graduate, tied with Ted Purdy
for fourth, by far his best finish. Garrigus had only one other Top
15 finish, a 15th-place tie at the Western Open. ... Kent Jones
moved from a 36th-place tie to a sixth-place tie with a 5-under 67,
the day's best round.