By Tim Price, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
SAN ANTONIO -- Maybe winning the British Open didn’t make Ben Curtis a recognizable star 10 years ago -- even if he did hit golf balls off roof tops in Manhattan to celebrate during a taping of “Late Night With David Letterman.”
Curtis tried his best to remind everyone last year when he won the Valero Texas Open. But even that didn’t work.
“We went up to the sports bar up here at the hotel (next to the golf course at TPC San Antonio),” Curtis said, “We sat there for four hours and no one -- not even one person -- came up to us the whole time we were sitting there.”
Curtis had to really shake his head when, just a few feet away, the Golf Channel was beaming highlights of his victory earlier that day.
The low-key Curtis is not one to complain about a lack of the limelight, though. Getting his game back on track is more important.
That win in San Antonio was his first in six years, his last since winning twice in 2006 at the Booz Allen Classic and the 84 LUMBER Classic. It truly marked a career revival when, after winning in Texas, he finished fifth at the Wells Fargo Championship and tied for second at THE PLAYERS Championship two shots back of Matt Kuchar.
The best he’s done in a full-field event this year came recently when he was 21st at Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
“I haven’t played great this year,” Curtis said. “I’ve had a couple of decent finishes, but just trying to get the snow off from home (in Kent, Ohio). It seems like I was playing nicely (before missing the cut at the Shell Houston Open), then the last four holes the driver just disappeared. I hit two of the worst drives I’ve hit all year and it cost me four shots.”
His game last year fit well at the demanding TPC San Antonio.
For the entire season Curtis was fifth in driving accuracy (70 percent of fairways hit), 12th in greens in regulation (69 percent) and 12th in strokes gained putting. He’ll need a return to form to do well this week: he’s 144th in driving accuracy (56 percent), 128th in greens in regulation (65 percent) and 130th in strokes gained-putting.
“I’ve been working real hard the last couple of days to get the timing of my swing down,” he said. “I know if I can get the timing down with (the driver), I’ll be fine."
Henrik Stenson ranks first in four major statistical categories in 2013. (Halleran/Getty Images)
By Bill Cooney, PGATOUR.COM
D.A. Points won the Shell Houston Open with a clutch 13-foot par putt on the 72nd hole on Sunday. Everyone will remember the story about Points using his mom's old putter. But don't forget about those wedges (we're pretty sure those aren't from mom, too). Points' scrambling was pretty tidy in Houston, especially in comparison to his stats from this season. We'll take a look at that and also this week's Valero Texas Open -- played at difficult TPC San Antonio -- by going inside the numbers.
1st Ranking next to Henrik Stenson’s name in four major statistical categories in 2013. … Stenson, who ranked 133rd in the world just eight months ago, has really turned his game around. He’s played five events in ’13 (four stroke play) and ranks first in driving accuracy (72.96 percent), greens in regulation (77.78 percent), scrambling (75 percent) and total driving. And now -- buoyed by a T2 at the Shell Houston Open, he’s headed to the Masters.
+1.989 That’s how many average strokes TPC San Antonio played over par at the 2012 Valero Texas Open. The AT&T Oaks Course was the fourth most-difficult course on the PGA TOUR last season. It was also the seventh most-difficult on TOUR in 2011 (+1.665). … There have been several renovations to the golf course in preparation for this week’s tournament -- in which Rory McIlroy is playing for the first time -- which includes alterations to the first, fourth, 10th and 12th greens.
6 This number is a reason to keep an eye on Ben Curtis at this week’s Valero Texas Open. It represents the number of defending champions from 2012 that have posted top-five finishes in 2013. Steve Stricker (2nd at Hyundai Tournament of Champions), Brandt Snedeker (T2 at Farmers Insurance), Bill Haas (T3 at Northern Trust), Hunter Mahan (WGC-Accenture Match Play), Luke Donald (T4 Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank) and Tiger Woods (Win at Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard) have carded T5s. Of course, four defending champs have missed weekend play. … Curtis, defending this week at TPC San Antonio, missed the weekend in Houston and has just a pair of T25s this season. So will it be feast or famine for him this week?
9 Number of eagles made this season by Chris Kirk, which leads the TOUR. … Yes, Kirk has an incredible nine eagles in 31 rounds. Not bad, considering Charles Howell III led the TOUR last season with 18 eagles in 98 rounds. Even more ridiculous, Kirk hasn’t even had an eagle in his past two tournaments or eight rounds. He had three eagles at the Sony Open in Hawaii and three at the Northern Trust Open. He also had a hole in one at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. It’s even more impressive when considering a player such as Lee Westwood has no eagles in 2013.
12 of 15 For you non-math majors that comes out to 80 percent, or Points’ scrambling percentage at Shell Houston, which ranked fifth in the field. … This essentially helped Points win his second career event on TOUR, as you may recall his incredible saves on the 17th and 18th holes in the final round. He got up-and-down from 43 yards out on 17 and made a 13-foot, 5-inch putt on the 18th to win. The 80 percent clip is also a dramatic improvement for Points. In 2013, Points ranks 116th in scrambling at 57.56 percent. He was T112 in 2012, at 56.50 percent.
146th Scrambling rank for Dustin Johnson in 2013, or a rate of 55 percent. … What’s the big deal, you ask? No, Johnson wouldn’t be a top pick to win a short-game contest on TOUR. But last season, he had improved dramatically from past years. He ranked 32nd in scrambling at 60.29 percent and 38th in sand saves at 53.85 percent. Not bad, considering the best he ranked in scrambling from 2008 to ’11 was 139th. Johnson has just three T25s in nine events in ’13, but poor scrambling stats haven’t affected Johnson much during his career. We’ll have to see if it affects him in '13.
169 feet, 4 inches Distance in putts made for Points in the first round of Shell Houston. … Points needed just 23 strokes on the greens during a first-round, 8-under 64. He gained nearly 5 strokes on the field average during Round 1. Points cooled off a bit on the greens, but finished the week 10th in strokes gained-putting. For 2013, Points ranks 152nd in SGP -- the reason he sought help with his putting and added his mom’s old putter to his bag.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS ARCHIVE
Week 2: Sony Open/Humana Challenge
Week 10: WGC-Cadillac/Tampa Bay Championship
Week 12: Shell Houston Open
To preview the 2013 PGA TOUR season, PGATOUR.COM is counting down the Top 100 Players to Watch in 2013. For an archive page with the top 100 players and for an explanation on how the list was compiled, click here .
2013 PREVIEW: Ben Curtis will have the luxury of being fully exempt through the end of the 2014 season after his win at the Valero Texas Open last year. If he continues the progress shown in 2012 -- moving from 87th to 13th in GIR and 57th to 14th in strokes-gained putting -- that fourth PGA TOUR victory won't be his last.
2012 DEFINING MOMENT: Curtis took the lead with his second-straight 67 and never relinquished it as he won the Valero Texas Open in his first visit to San Antonio. In two of his next three starts, the unassuming man from Ohio posted his other two top-10s in tying for fifth at the Wells Fargo Championship and second at THE PLAYERS. –- Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ALBERS’ QUICK TAKE: I walked down the 18th fairway with Curtis during a Wednesday practice round before THE PLAYERS Championship and he seemed out of gas before the tournament even began, yet he still finished tied for second. Curtis had a magical month where he won the Valero then played three more weeks in a row where he finished T13, T5 and second at THE PLAYERS. Ben rode that stretch to a 41st-place finish in the FedExCup standings. -- Fred Albers, SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio
BOLTON’S FANTASY OUTLOOK: What a funky year. He started 2012 deep in the conditional status category, which ultimately restricted him to 19 starts, a handful below his usual. Then ended a five-year winless drought at the Valero Texas Open, his first of four consecutive top 15s (the last two of which were top fives), before failing to crack another top 10 the rest of the way. In four of his 10 years on the PGA TOUR, he's hit seven figures, none of which consecutively, yet three resulted in earnings north of $2.2 million. It's this unpredictable success rate that makes him borderline unownable, but definitely not in salary games. -- Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy expert
2012 QUICK REVIEW
|Regular Season ranking
|Final Playoffs ranking
|Best finishes||1st||Valero Texas Open|
|By the Numbers
Cuts made: 12
Rounds played: 62
Top-10 finishes: 3
Money List rank: 30th
Driving distance: 186th
Driving accuracy: 7th
Greens in regulation: 13th
Strokes gained-putting: 14th
Scoring average: 55th
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
What is your prediction for Ben Curtis in 2013? Fill out the form below and let us know.
The pairings have been unveiled for this week’s PGA TOUR Matchups Game on Facebook. You can check out the Matchups for the the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance below, or on the PGA TOUR’s Facebook page.
Participants have until 6 a.m. ET Thursday to make their picks. Log on to the PGA TOUR Facebook page and click the Matchups link to make your picks for this week, or to sign up.
|Tiger Woods vs. Steve Stricker||Two former Memorial champs have struggled recently|
|Dustin Johnson vs. Bubba Watson||Two bombers set to return; Johnson's first start since March|
|Phil Mickelson vs. Vijay Singh||Two fellow World Golf Hall of Famers teeing it up this week|
|Justin Rose vs. Rickie Fowler||Rose won here in 2010, Fowler was second that year|
|Ben Curtis vs. Jim Furyk||Both veterans enter Muirfield Village on a hot streak|
Got a question for Ben Curtis? Send us your questions for Direct Connect — PGATOUR.COM’s video franchise that gets you closer to a PGA TOUR pro each week — and host John Swantek might use it when he chats this week with 2012 Valero Texas Open champion.
Curtis' surprise win last month at TPC San Antonio put him back among the TOUR's elite, and he's followed it up with top-five finishes at the Wells Fargo Championship and the THE PLAYERS Championship. He is also in the field this week at the the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.
Direct Connect video will be posted each Wednesday afternoon on PGATOUR.COM.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Ben Curtis likes difficult golf courses, and they don’t come much tougher than TPC Sawgrass.
It’s no wonder then Curtis will enter the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship in contention at 7 under after shooting 70 on Saturday. He had just two birdies in the third round but was one of only two players without a bogey on the scorecard on a windswept afternoon.
The other was the player he’s chasing, Kevin Na.
“I love when par is at a premium” said Curtis, who is tied for fourth and five shots back of Na. “I like the feeling when you make par and you know you’re going to move up the leaderboard. For me, I feel less pressure.”
It showed, especially on the back nine where Curtis got up-and-down from 86, 69 and 50 feet to save par on the 13th, 14th and 15th holes.
All week, players have talked about the importance of hitting fairways and greens. Yet Curtis has done neither very well, ranking outside the top 50 for the week in both.
What he has done, however, is make putts. Curtis is tied for the fourth-fewest in the field with 81.
It’s something that’s been a prevailing trend the last four starts for Curtis, who hasn’t finished outside the top 13 since his victory last month in San Antonio.
“The last four events the greens have been really good; I like them firm and fast,” Curtis said. “When they get slow and bumpy, that’s a struggle for me. That’s huge.”
So too have been some of Curtis’ performances on tough tracks -- in his career, he has top-10 finishes at, among others, Quail Hollow, Bay Hill, East Lake and Oakland Hills, where he tied for second in the 2008 PGA Championship.
Like those past results, avoiding trouble is almost if not as important as making birdie. This week, you have to go back to the 11th hole Friday to find the last bogey Curtis made -- a span of 25 straight without a blemish on the card.
As well as Curtis played Saturday, his second round may have been just as if not more important.
At 3 over through his first 11 holes Friday, Curtis was flirting with the cut after back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 10 and 11. He bounced back with a 10-foot birdie on the par-3 12th, though, and added three more to finish a stroke under par.
“The birdie on 12 seemed to calm me down,” he said. “I was a little tentative to start the round. I was trying to not make bogey and I was.”
For a while, Curtis made plenty of bogeys, especially here. He missed the cut in his first four appearances at THE PLAYERS. He also struggled in the two years immediately following his watershed victory at the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George’s.
“In ‘04 and ‘05 I put so much pressure on myself to do well,” Curtis said. “I [finally] said screw that and just play golf.”
A year later he won twice.
Curtis had to wait six years for his next victory, but it never seemed that far off. Neither does one here, and with good reason.
Curtis only needs to look back to 2009 when Henrik Stenson rallied from five shots back with a 66 on the final day to win by four.
“It could change so fast out here,” Curtis said.
If anyone knows that, he does.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Now that 36 holes are in the books at THE PLAYERS Championship, the PGATOUR.COM staff were asked to provide their predictions for the winner Sunday night at TPC Sawgrass. Here are our choices. Fill out the form below and let us know who you’re picking this weekend.
ZACH JOHNSON (8 under, co-leader)
"I'd usually be leery of a 36-hole frontrunner on the Stadium Course, but this co-leader looked awfully comfortable here Friday in his 66. His driver's not going to disappear over the weekend, and he's plenty steady enough on the greens." -- John Schwarb, Producer
KEVIN NA (8 under, co-leader)
"The last two PLAYERS champions have ranked first (Tim Clark, 2010) and second (K.J. Choi, 2011) in the field for the TOUR's primary putting statistic -- Strokes Gained-Putting. Guess who ranks first after 36 holes this week? All Na must do is stay out of trouble and stay calm. And yes, I know -- that's easier said than done, especially here." -- Mike McAllister, Managing Editor
“Last time Na held a share of the 36-hole lead was in Las Vegas, where he notched his first career win. Na is healthy, confident and ready for a statement victory.” – Amanda Balionis, host, PGA TOUR Today
ADAM SCOTT (6 under, two shots off lead)
BEN CURTIS (5 under, three shots off lead)
LUKE DONALD (3 under, five shots off lead)
LEE WESTWOOD (3 under, five shots off lead)
Following his opening-round 67, Ben Curtis talks about his play in the 2012 Zurich Classic of New Orleans with Bob Stevens from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AVONDALE, La. -- The windswept 67 was nothing if not solid. But Ben Curtis' round of 5 under was even more impressive considering he had never played TPC Louisiana before Thursday's first round of the Zurich Classic.
Curtis, who is riding the momentum of Sunday's win at the Valero Texas Open, had only played in New Orleans once prior to this week. But that tournament in 2003, where Curtis finished next-to-last, was played at English Turn Golf & Country Club.
The affable gentleman from Ohio got to TPC Louisiana late Tuesday and dropped his clubs off. Curtis wasn't in the pro-am on Wednesday so he passed the time practicing and found that he was still hitting the ball as well as he did at that other TPC in San Antonio last week as he ended a six-year victory drought.
"It's just great to get back out here and play," Curtis said. "Didn't get a chance to play the course before the tournament. Just felt like I was comfortable where my game was, obviously; … just felt like I just go out there and see what happens this week and just play stress-free."
Curtis started on the back nine Thursday and turned in 33. He gave one shot back at the par-3 third but made three more birdies over his last six holes to post the 67 that left him two strokes off the lead.
"Obviously you want to play well every time you tee it off," Curtis said. "Yesterday I was practicing and still hitting it good and still putting well. What the heck, go out there and just be aggressive and try to shoot some good scores. It's playing a little bit tough, they moved some tees around, make it more enjoyable for us."
Battling the breezes last week in Texas might give Curtis an advantage this week, too. He said even though the wind was brisk on Thursday, the fairways seem wider and the greens bigger at TPC Louisiana.
"Didn't seem like we were hitting as many as 3 and 4-irons like we did last week into the greens," he said.
Curtis hit all but two fairways and all but two greens in the first round. He had 15 putts on each nine, too, in what he acknowledged was a "pretty stress-free" round. Three more and who knows what might happen?