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Published: Monday, 8/11/2008

Curtis stays in hunt, ties for second place

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Ben Curtis and his caddie kept consulting their yardage book, which seemed a bit odd since rarely is yardage calculated from the hospitality tents.

That's where the Ohioan found himself after a truly wayward drive on the 16th hole at Oakland Hills yesterday evening.

He somehow saved par, but could not do the same at the par-3 17th and saw his PGA Championship bid come up short.

After an up-and-down round which saw him lead by as many as three shots and trail by as many as two, Curtis came to the 16th green in a three-way tie for the lead with Padraig Harrington, the eventual champion, and Sergio Garcia.

His hooked his drive far left and his ball came to rest on carpeting, near fencing that separates one hospitality tent from the next. He was allowed a drop away from all of that and actually had a decent look at the green through a chute of trees. He found the front quarter of the green with his recovery shot, and then two-putted for a nice par.

But on No. 17, his tee shot was on the mark, but too long. It bounced past the pin and into gnarly rough beyond the green. He chipped 20 feet past and two-putted for bogey at a hole Harrington had birdied moments earlier.

It was a two-shot swing that Curtis could not overcome.

"I'm happy I hung in there and gave it my all and it came down to the last couple holes with a chance to win," Curtis said. "That's all I can ask. But the way Padraig played was unbelievable. He finished 66-66 and you wouldn't think that was possible."

Curtis owned a three-shot lead after scoring birdie at the first hole and seemed unflappable in pursuit of his second career major championship.

He followed that opening birdie with four pars before moving to 4-under with a two-putt birdie after driving to the front edge of the green on the 294-yard, par-4 sixth hole.

Instead of unflappable, though, the Ohioan came unglued for a stretch.

After scoring just three bogeys in his previous 40 holes, Curtis experienced three bogeys in the next four holes and eventually fell two shots in arrears before rallying.

"I played pretty solid golf for the first seven or eight holes, but coming around the turn I hit a little wall," Curtis said. "There was a little fatigue. It was a mental grind all day."

Curtis, the 2003 British Open champion, was one of six golfers forced to play 36 holes yesterday after never teeing off during Saturday's rain-suspended third round. He shot a 68 in the morning to assume a one-shot lead entering the final 18 holes.

He was pretty much fairways-and-greens in the morning round and started final-round play the same way.

But he started missing both with regularity and found himself trailing Garcia by two shots after a bogey at No. 11.

Curtis got a shot back at the par-5 12th and added another birdie at No. 14. He lost two strokes to par the rest of the way, though.

A birdie putt at No. 18 came up three inches short and left Curtis in a tie for second place with Garcia. Each earned $660,000 while Harrington took the top prize of $1.35 million.

It was the second top-10 finish in as many majors for Curtis, a Columbus-area native who resides in Stow, Ohio. He finished tied for seventh at last month's British Open, also won by Harrington.

Curtis posted rounds of 73-67-68-71 for a 279 total and joined Harrington and Garcia as the only players in the field to finish under par.

Dressed in the Detroit Lions' Honolulu blue to satisfy an endorsement deal with Reebok, Curtis was trying to become the first player wearing those colors to win a championship since 1957.

Alas, as any Lions fan might have suggested, it could only end badly.



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