Golf Tidbits: Curtis is better than you realize

3:01 PM, Apr 26, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Ben Curtis seems to excel at the least likely times.

Curtis won his fourth PGA Tour event on Sunday, as he hung on to win the Valero Texas Open despite going 1-over par over the final two days.

The further down the world rankings he goes, the better he seems to do.

Back in 2003, Curtis entered the British Open ranked 396th in the world. Not only was it his first major championship, it was just his 16th career start on the PGA Tour.

He closed with a 2-under 69 at Royal St. George's to get into the clubhouse at 1-under par for the championship. After a brief rest, he went to hit some practice shots in case of a playoff.

What he didn't know was that Thomas Bjorn was in the process of coughing up the title.

Bjorn found sand off the tee at the par-3 16th. Both his second and third shots landed on the green, but rolled right back into the same bunker. That led to a double-bogey and he followed with a bogey on 17 to fall behind Curtis.

Bjorn couldn't make birdie at the last, and the claret just was Curtis'.

Curtis had missed the cut in six of his previous 15 PGA Tour starts, and was definitely the odd name out in the top five.

He was joined in the top five at the British Open by Vijay Singh, Bjorn, Tiger Woods and Davis Love III.

Curtis is often talked about among the most unlikely major champions. Not only because he was handed the title by Bjorn, but also because he was the first major winner since Francis Ouimet to win in his major championship appearance.

Fast forward to last weekend, Curtis entered the Texas Open having fallen to 290th in the world rankings. It was just his fourth PGA Tour start of the season after he lost his fully exempt status last year.

Curtis was only partially exempt, playing out of the 126-150 on the money list category. In part because of that, Curtis has tumbled to 280th in the world.

He managed to win by two strokes in a week in which many big names weren't in the field. And he is now fully exempt for the next two years and will head back to Augusta next year for the Masters.

Curtis may have been a surprise winner at Royal St. George's, and he might have been a surprise winner last weekend as well, but he owns four PGA Tour wins now.

"If you get to three, four, five wins, you're a solid player. I just felt like, yeah, you get yourself in contention and just have that belief, anything can happen," Curtis said when asked if he ever thought he would win again.

Curtis has more PGA Tour wins than such players as Aaron Baddeley, Angel Cabrera, Paul Casey, Lucas Glover, Charles Howell III, Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy and Camilo Villegas.

He has as many wins as Robert Allenby, Chad Campbell, Sean O'Hair, Justin Rose and newly crowned Masters champion, Bubba Watson.

For a player once thought of as a fluky champion, Curtis proving to be more than just a solid player.

GRACE, THE NEXT SOUTH AFRICAN STAR

In just his second full year on the European Tour, Branden Grace is making a name for himself. He has already won three titles just four months into the season on the European Tour.

Grace joined Johan Edfors as the only two players to win three times the year after graduating to the tour via Q School.

He moved into some very exclusive company with his third win at age 23. The only other European Tour players to win three times in one season at younger age were Sandy Lyle and Seve Ballesteros, who did it three times.

"If I think back now to last year and playing on the Challenge Tour and just trying to get back to the main tour and really just trying to make a living, it was tough at points. So to be here with three wins is amazing," Grace said after his win.

The hierarchy of South African golf greats starts with Gary Player and runs through current stars such as Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

Grace is on his way to becoming one of the top South Africans, but he still has to move ahead of Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen, Rory Sabbatini and Charl Schwartzel, who all have more wins than Grace.

Not to worry for the young Grace. He has plenty of time to catch the others as he is at least six years younger than those other four.

MINI-TIDBITS

* One of the players Curtis held off to win the Texas Open was John Huh. He opened with a 9-over 44 on his opening nine on Thursday, but played the final 63 holes in 16-under-par.

* It's a big week off the course for a pair of Nationwide Tour players. Jeff Klauk is recovering from recent brain surgery, while Jarrod Lyle is undergoing a second, and more harsh, round of treatment for leukemia.

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