Going-Away Gift: Curtis Wins 84 Lumber

Monday, September 18th 2006, 6:36 am
By: News On 6

FARMINGTON, Pa. (AP) _ 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 2 1/2 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 said.

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.