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Ben Curtis did the San Diego Chargers logo on his hat proud on Saturday with his impressive even-par 70 in wicked conditions. (Photo: Getty Images)

Surprise eagle on par-4 third carries Curtis into contention

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Considering Ben Curtis played his first seven holes of the 137th Open Championship in 7 over over par, it's incredible that he even made the cut. That he is contention for his second Open title is equally amazing.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.com Chief of Correspondents

SOUTHPORT, England -- Ben Curtis was, in his words, "hanging on for dear life" as he battled Royal Birkdale on Saturday. He wasn't alone, either.

And it turns out the even-par 70 Curtis shot may also have given the 2003 Open winner new life in the 137th renewal of the game's oldest championship. As those gale-force winds began to take their toll, Curtis, who had begun the morning in a tie for 38th, was hovering in the top 10 at 7 over.

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Forget the conditions, though. The fact Curtis is even here competing this weekend is in itself amazing considering he began the championship on Thursday by playing his first seven holes in 7 over par, thanks a triple-bogey on No. 1, a double-bogey on No. 2 and back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 6 and 7. Since then, though, Curtis has been arguably one of the best players in the field, playing his last 47 holes in an eye-popping even par.

"It was probably about as tough as you can play out there," Curtis said. "I probably didn't hit it as good as I did yesterday in the second half of my round on Thursday, but I got away with a few shots and made quite a few putts out there, and that's the hardest part of the day, I think, is making the putts.

"They moved a couple tees up for us. That was nice of them. But yeah, just coming in on the back nine, just tried to make some pars and hit some good shots, and then if I gave myself a chance to make birdie, that was great.

Curtis, who said par Saturday was probably in the mid- to upper-70s, got untracked when he holed a 9-iron from 165 yards on the third hole. Birdies at Nos. 5 and 7 followed and Curtis turned in 31. Even though he couldn't maintain the momentum on the back, shooting 3 over, the round was impressive.


"Ben's round was incredible," playing partner Phil Mickelson said. "He hit a lot of great shots, a lot of great putts. Shot even par in this weather. It's one of the better rounds I've seen."

Curtis actually was surprised by the eagle 2 at the second hole. He had an uphill lie with the ball below his feet, a shot he'd been fighting to the right. This one, though, performed perfectly.

"I heeled it a little bit," Curtis said. "I thought it was going in that front right bunker because when I looked up it was right of the pin basically halfway there. But luckily it just held its line, because my caddy said the same thing, he thought it was in the right bunker, as well.


"And then when they started clapping, I thought, well, maybe it carried the bunker and it's on the right edge of the green. Then all of a sudden we walked 10 more yards and they went crazy."

Curtis said putting is problematic in the winds that were gusting to nearly 50 mph. His flat stick has been relatively cooperative, though. Curtis needed just 28 putt on Saturday and a total of 89 for the three rounds. He's only had a trio of three-putts, too.

"Obviously the ball can move, and you've got to pull the trigger pretty quick once you make the decision," Curtis explained. "Number two, I think when you're looking at the hole you've got to be careful the ball doesn't come back and hit your putter or your feet or something.

"The big thing is you've just got to stay patient and not try to guess when to hit it but try to keep a good pace on your stroke. That's the biggest thing -- into the wind you have a tendency to have a short backswing and jerk it through, and downwind you do the same thing because the wind holds the putter up on the way back and you can get a little too quick.

"So just try and keep a good steady pace."

That's not unlike what Curtis did in 2003 at Royal St. George's when the young man from Ohio, who was playing in his very first major championship, fired a final-round 69 to overtake Thomas Bjorn and win the Claret Jug. Saturday's round was good, but nothing like that magical day.

"To deal with the pressure and to play the way I did on Saturday in a major in your first time around, I think that will always be my best round I've ever played," said Curtis, who has won twice on TOUR since that fateful day in 2003. "You may have better ball-striking days or a better scoring day, but as far as dealing with everything, there isn't much that can beat that."

Another Open Championship on Sunday might come close, though.

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