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GOLF / THOMAS BONK

He Hasn't Followed Through on Big Win

July 08, 2004|THOMAS BONK

Now we know what Ben has been doing.

If there was anyone waiting for Ben Curtis to finally win something since his stunning victory at the British Open a year ago, let the record show that time has arrived.

He won the pro-am at the Scottish Open on Wednesday.

They don't pass out silver Claret Jugs for that, but at this stage of his professional career, Curtis would take a handshake, a slap on the back and launch into an acceptance speech. He's sort of out of practice.

At 27 and a year removed from one of the most unexpected victories in the history of professional golf, Curtis will be at Royal Troon next week with another opportunity to define what he's all about.

Is he the real deal?

Was Royal St. George's a royal fluke?

Can he come up with something spectacular to prove that people need to drop that Cinderella slipper stuff?

Of course, Cinderella was never quite the long shot for something good to happen that Curtis so accurately embodied last year at the British Open. Pumpkins turning into coaches was nothing compared to Curtis' winning the British Open.

He was ranked 396th. He was rated a 750-1 underdog. He had never played in a major. He didn't qualify until two weeks before. He was the first player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to win the first major he played. He was the only player to finish under par.

Other than that, it was a routine week for Curtis, who probably isn't going to experience anything like it again when he gets to Royal Troon.

He flew Sunday night to Glasgow, Scotland, with the Claret Jug packed in its metal carrying case and stowed in the overhead bin.

The scene was much different a year ago after his victory, when he flew from London to Cleveland with the trophy.

After the pilot made an announcement that the British Open champion was on board, passengers made their way to Curtis' seat to talk to him, and also to see the Claret Jug and photograph it.

Curtis never put the trophy away. He wound up leaving it right there on the seat, between himself and his wife Candace, like some museum piece in a gallery at 35,000 feet.

In a matter of days, Curtis must hand over the Claret Jug to Peter Dawson, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. He said he would be sorry to see it go, but at least he'll get a replica in return.

Maybe that will help Curtis put himself into the proper frame of mind. Something needs to. Actually, Curtis says he's feeling pretty good about himself and his game, which would be a good place to start.

He worked on his swing a little bit Monday because he was fighting alignment problems at the Western Open last week, where he shot 67-78 and missed the cut. It was his sixth missed cut in 11 full-field events. Curtis has one top-10 finish this year -- he tied for eighth at the Memorial -- and it's his only one since his victory at Royal St. George's.

This year hasn't been so great for Curtis. He ranks 139th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, 124th in fairways hit, 111th in greens hit, 172nd in putting and 114th in scoring.

At the Masters, Curtis tied for 58th. He was 30th at the U.S. Open.

Maybe all this means something, maybe it doesn't. Clearly, experience meant nothing a year ago when he showed up at Royal St. George's for his maiden voyage into the majors, two years after finishing 10th on the Hooters Tour money list, and wound up defeating Vijay Singh and Thomas Bjorn by one shot and Tiger Woods and Davis Love III by two.

A year later, Curtis has to prove that was no accident. In mid-May, before he played the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Heidelberg, Germany, Curtis and his wife made a detour to Scotland to play Royal Troon, so he's already a little ahead of the game as far as scouting goes.

As far as his golf game goes, well, Curtis said he was happy with the way he was hitting the ball and expected to do well if he can keep the ball on the fairways and the greens at Royal Troon. He is not the only player saying this, but he is the only player saying it who also is the defending British Open champion, which means he has earned enough respect that we ought to listen.

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