American Ben Curtis fired even-par 72 on Sunday to win the Valero Texas Open at the TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks Course in San Antonio, Texas. His winning score of 279 (-9) bested that of second-place finishers John Huh and Matt Every (both 281). Four other golfers finished T4 two shots further back of second place.
That’s how long it’s Ben since Curtis has won on the PGA Tour dating back to 2006 at the 84 Lumber Classic. The 84 Lumber Classic no longer exists and I’m not sure if some of you in fantasy-golf-land thought the same thing about the 2003 Open Champion.
The AT&T Oaks course ranked the seventh-hardest course (counting all four majors) on Tour last year and 2012 was no different as the course almost played to an average of 74 per round (almost two-over-par) through the weekend. This course was made even longer by rain on Friday afternoon. This course was made tougher by windy conditions on Saturday. Sunday it seemed to calm down but Ben Curtis had an answer for all of it.
Curtis was ranked 74th of 76 golfers in driving distance but was second in accuracy so he successfully took the Hill Country desert out of play. Curtis attacked the multi-tiered greens from the middle of the fairway the best of them all this week, finishing first in GIR. Combine these facets with his third-place finish in strokes gained-putting and that was the recipe for success this week.
Those numbers would have been worthless had he not made some clutch putts down the stretch especially the one he made on 17. Curtis missed the green from 75 yards on the short, par-four from a bad lie. He chipped back across the green and his ball finally came to a rest 22 feet away from the hole for par. As was the story on the entire back nine on Sunday, neither Every nor Huh could make a putt when it counted to put the pressure on Curtis. Both of them missed birdie chances and Curtis calmly rolled that putt in and was on his way to 18 tee with a one-shot lead that he wouldn’t relinquish.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
The last 11 of 17 players who led after 54 holes on Tour have blown the lead in the final round. Ben Curtis now makes it 11 of the last 18 as he won for the fourth time in his career.
Curtis struggled with two double-bogeys on Saturday en route to one-over par 73 but somehow maintained his lead as Matt Every fired the exact same 73. On Sunday, Curtis held his nerve and his lead and ended up winning by two shots after his birdie on 18.
The last two weeks we’ve seen 30-something previous winners closing out on Tour. It’s hard to win on Tour but the previous experiences from these “journeymen” the last two weeks have been impressive. Curtis hasn’t had a top-10 finish since 2010 at API and his best finish before this week was T4 at the 2009 Travelers. Keeping his nerve on the final nine holes was more than impressive. What do I remember about Ben Curtis when he was winning back in 2006? He was wearing NFL team colors as his “uniform” on Tour ala Payne Stewart from the “old” days. Now, we have guys wearing checks and plaids, belt buckles this size of landing pads and whatever John Daly is wearing and we consider that fashion. Remember when Ben Curtis’s fashion was “out there”? As Bob Dylan once remarked, “the times they are a-changin’”.
Congratulations if you included Curtis in your league/Yahoo/fantasy line up this week. In three events leading up to Valero, Curtis was CUT Mayakoba, T14 PRO and CUT SHO. He has a 10-year exemption in Europe from his 2003 Open Championship. In three starts on the European Tour this season, Curtis was T48, T47 and T13.
Curtis also wins in his first start ever at Valero Texas Open becoming just the 11th golfer since 1970 to do so.
With this victory, Ben Curtis earns $1,116,000 and 500 FedExCup points. Curtis now has four-career wins on Tour and is now 28th in the FedExCup standings trailing leader Hunter Mahan.
Young Guns versus Old Guns
In 18 tournaments this season the “Young versus Old” argument now stands at 9-7-2 as Ben Curtis scores another point for the “middle”.
For the “young”, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24) and Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29), Rory McIlroy (22) and Justin Rose (31) lead the way for the Young guys.
Mark Wilson (37) is joined by George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34) and now Ben Curtis (34) in the “middle”.
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are flying the flag for the “old” folks on Tour.
After a three-week streak by the Internationals was broken up by a three-week streak by U.S. players, the Internationals and U.S. players have now alternated the last two weeks. It’s obviously a global game for twenty and thirty-something golfers based on the first 18 tournaments of 2012.
Matt Every: After setting the course record on Thursday with nine-under 63, Every knew on Friday that even getting in that neighborhood would be difficult. Last week, he was T62 in driving accuracy and T37 GIR and it was his putter that saved him. This week after Thursday, Every continued to pound fairways (T3) and GIR (T8) but ultimately it was his new putter which let him down on Sunday. You wouldn’t have known it by the way he started with birdies on holes No. 2, 4, 5, and 6. Those birdies saw him tie the lead but he never strung enough putts together on the back to rattle Curtis. He had a handful of chances to put pressure on Curtis on the back nine only to find his putts ending up short of the hole. Every made half of his 18 birdies on Thursday and played the final three rounds in two-over par. Every backed up his T8 last week with T2 this week so his game is definitely heading in the right direction. He now has hit the top 10 four times in 2012 to go along with five CUTS. Every moves to 24th on the FedExCup list and should move on to your radar in the coming weeks with his hot play.
John Huh: Huh made the exact-opposite start to the week that Every had but ended up finishing in the same position on the leader board on Sunday afternoon, T2. Huh played his first eight holes in NINE-OVER before a birdie on 18 (his first nine was the back nine) saw him turn in 44. Yikes. My “fade” prediction was coming true! In the immortal words of Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friends!” as Huh went on a tear after those first eight holes. In his final 64 holes, he made one bogey and 13 birdies. Any questions lingering if John Huh can play should be out of your mind by now. This week he was ninth in driving accuracy, T4 in strokes gained-putting and T5 GIR. On top of his victory this season at Mayakoba, Huh now adds T2 to his Rookie of the Year season. It’s not even May and he’s not even 22 years of age. My question for Rob and Ryan during the chat on Wednesday at Noon at http://rotoworld.com will be: When was the last time a rookie on Tour qualified for the Ryder Cup? What will you ask them?
Brendan Steele: The defending champion made the cut by a shot on Friday and took advantage of his opportunity by shredding the AT&T Oaks Course on the weekend to the tune of 69-67. His 67 on Sunday tied Hunter Haas for the second lowest round of the day (Hearn and Kelly 66). Steele reverted back to his game plan from last year and that was to avoid bogey. This week he only put six of them on his scorecard. His 53 pars were T3 and he made eight of his 11 birdies on the weekend to jump up to T4. Steele’s second season on Tour has been uneven to say the least. In 10 full-field events, he’s been CUT in five of those. In his five finishes, he’s been T66 at Humana, T5 WMPO, T69 NTO, 75th at Honda and T4 this week. That’s one heck of a ride.
Bob Estes: This week’s “Billy Mayfair” finished T4 as he went toe-to-toe with the youngsters in San Antonio. Estes started the season off with T22 at Sony and T15 at ATT before hitting a mid-season lull which included three MC in four events. He rebounded for T24 last week at Harbour Town and the 46-year-old hit the top 10 for the first time since he was P2 at the Greenbrier last summer. The only reason Estes is on Tour this season because of his eighth-place finish at PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament last winter. He’s currently 75th in the FedExCup standings and that should take some pressure off his game moving forward. It was interesting to see Estes play well on a shorter course last week and a big course this week.
Brian Gay: In his last five outings on Tour, Gay has been CUT twice and his best finish was T42, including one of those CUTS last week at Harbour Town. Gay is known for his putting and short-game which is exactly why he was T4 this week. Gay was second in strokes gained-putting this week and T6 in sand saves and these two facets enabled him to hit the top five for the first time since the 2011 Humana Challenge. Gay’s other top 10 of 2012 was T6 in his first event of the season at Sony.
Charlie Wi: Since being ran off the road by Phil Mickelson at AT&T Pebble Beach, Wi has been quietly going about his business making six cuts in a row including his T4 today. During this stretch, though, Wi never was better than T29. His third and fourth-round scoring has been holding him back as he hasn’t been able to put it together on the weekends. Yet this weekend he played each day one-under par.
Hunter Haas: When we have fields that only have a handful of top-ranked players participating, guys like Hunter Haas have to take advantage. And he did. In 10 previous events in 2012 Haas was CUT in six of those and his best finish was T37. Haas has always been known as a solid putter but this week it was his iron play that helped him into the top 10 with T8. Haas finished T5 in GIR and was T9 in putts per round. He started off on fire with 66 and finished with 67 but it was the 74-77 Friday/Saturday that kept him from bettering his career-best T3 (PRO 2011) on Tour.
Ryan Moore: Moore hit the top 10 for the second time in three weeks with his T8 finish in San Antonio. Sandwiched between these top 10’s is a MDF at SHO where he finished up on Saturday with 85. In his last seven starts Moore has hit the top 20 four times and has been 76th, CUT and 88th. This was his first time at Valero and he seemed to enjoy it! He had no problem playing the weekend here as he was four-under.
Cameron Tringale: The former Yellow Jacket from Georgia Tech continued his quietly solid 2012 season with another top 10 finish (T8) this week. This is the second tournament in a row that Tringale has hit the top 10 and third of 2012 (T4 FIO). The highlight of the week for Tringale was his bogey-free 65 on Friday to move him into T2 going into the weekend. 76-71 on the weekend saw his chances at his first Tour win fade away but he showed some character on Sunday. He started double, bogey and could have just mailed it in and went home. Instead he played the final 16 holes in four-under to hit another top 10. Tringale is an excellent putter and that was evidenced this week as he finished eighth in strokes gained-putting.
“Hey, whatever happened to…”
Matt Kuchar: The highest-ranked golfer entering this week’s Valero Texas Open finished a very respectable T13 in his first outing here. Kuchar’s best round was his third round 67 but, as is the case with Kuchar, his putter never let him get into the tournament. He finished 50th or worse in all three putting categories and that negated his T8 GIR. In nine events in 2012 Kuchar has hit the top 25 seven times. That’s Stricker-ian!
K.J. Choi: His disappointing 2012 continued this week as he shot 74-76 and was CUT. In eight events after his season-opening T5 at HTOC, Choi has only one top 25 and has been CUT in his last two events. If K.J. Choi is one of your “go-to guys” it might be time to re-evaluate that decision until he starts warming up.
Kevin Na: Na was the hit of the party on Wednesday when he cut down some brush and left his shirt at the infamous ninth hole where he made 16 in 2012. Sadly for Na, he made just as many doubles as birdies in round one and settled for 79. He went on to WD on Friday citing a back injury. Please bookmark this page to keep up-to-date with all the injuries on Tour as there were EIGHT WD’s this week alone at Valero.
Harris English: The rookie struggled on the weekend posting 80-75 and finished T67. English was T11 in strokes gained-putting but SEVEN doubles did him in for the week. He’ll learn from this week that he can’t make two doubles a round and expect to contend. I find it amazing that he made the cut and did NOT MDF. In 11 events in 2012 he’s made the cut in nine.
Johnson Wagner: The Texan was baffled on the greens this week and made 12 bogeys in two rounds before being CUT for the second straight outing. Since his T4 at API Wagner was T29 SHO, CUT Masters and CUT this week. It might be time for another break to tune up the moustache as his last four rounds are 79-74-74-79.