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Ben Curtis
Ben Curtis' Thursday 65 tied his lowest round in an Open Championship. (How/Getty Images)

Curtis surprises himself with opening 65

Ben Curtis teed off Thursday just hoping to find a fairway. The 2003 Open champ found enough of them to tie Tom Watson for second place and entertain thoughts of a second Claret Jug.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- For a guy who was “just hoping to find a fairway,” Ben Curtis sure made out OK in the first round of the 138th Open Championship at Turnberry.

Curtis, who shocked the world of golf with his win in the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s on his first try in golf’s oldest championship, matched 59-year-old Tom Watson by firing a fantastic 5-under 65 on Thursday to grab a share of the early lead before Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez posted a 6-under 64 late in the day.

“I've been playing pretty decent,” said Curtis, whose lone top-10 finish of the season was a tie for fourth at the Travelers Championship three weeks ago. “I mean, I haven't got a whole lot out of my game this year. To shoot 65 today, [I’m] a little surprised, even as easy as it was playing.

“I was struggling just to get it lined up right and seemed to be aiming 40 yards right off the tee and hitting a lot of bad tee shots,” he explained. “To go out there and shoot that number, when to be honest I was just hoping to find a fairway, yeah, I'm surprised a little bit. But I've obviously been playing decent. I'm not shocked that I shot 65 today.”

The 65 by Curtis tied his lowest round in an Open Championship, matching his mark in the final round of the 2007 Open at Carnoustie, which led to a tie for eighth. Interestingly, when Curtis won the Claret Jug in 2003, he broke 70 just once. That happened in the final round, when he shot a 69.

Curtis missed the cut in the Open three straight years after his victory before the tie for eighth at Carnoustie and a tie for seventh last year at Royal Birkdale. He also tied for second last summer in the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

All things considered, Curtis -- also a member of the victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2008 at Valhalla -- has proven himself to be a major contender on a fairly regular basis.

“The last couple of years have been good to me, and I've played well,” Curtis said. “I think the big thing, I just love playing links golf, knowing that you have to control your irons pretty well and just keep the ball out of those fairway bunkers and kind of manage your way around the golf course, I like doing that a little bit.”

Aside from wondering where the ball was going to be off the tee (he hit 10 of 14 fairways), Curtis did everything else exceptionally well in the first round.

“I made a good par putt on No. 1 for par from about 10  to 12, and just putted extremely well,” said Curtis, which made his 31 putts look deceiving. “I had three or four lipouts, as well, just all the putts seemed to be with good pace and obviously on the last hole I didn't hit a good one, but that was probably the biggest thing.”

Being a rather low-key guy on and off the course, Curtis admitted that he gets recognized more in Europe than he does in the United States.

“I think this is really a huge event for them and they know their history, know their golf over here,” he said. “That's what it is more than anything. They're good to their Open champions.”

With the win at Royal St. George’s, Curtis became the first golfer since Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open to win a major on his first try. That, Curtis said, is still hard to fathom.

“You look back on it and you kind of have to pinch yourself every now and then to realize that, hey, I won the biggest tournament in the world on the first try,” he said. “That just doesn't happen. It's just weird that it happened to me. So I was very fortunate. I just had a great attitude that week. To be honest, I was just happy to be there.”

He may have been happy to be at the Open Championship in 2003, but these days the three-time PGA TOUR winner expects to contend. That’s not to say he has thoughts of a second major dancing through his head after just one round, though.

“We'll see on Sunday,” he said. “Just take it one day at a time.”

Spoken like a true major champion.

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