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Ben Curtis put his grit and guile on full display Sunday at Oakland Hills. (Franklin/Getty Images)

Once again, Curtis rises to occasion in a major

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Ben Curtis came up just short to Padraig Harrington after a long day on a long, labor-intensive golf course, but there was no mistaking how tall he stood at the end of the PGA Championship.

By Dave Shedloski, PGATOUR.COM Senior Correspondent

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - He doesn't give much away on the golf course. Little emotion. Few loose shots. Ben Curtis doesn't dazzle, but when he gets in the hunt in major championships, he doesn't disintegrate, either.

Curtis came up just short to irrepressible Padraig Harrington after a long day on a long, labor-intensive golf course, but there was no mistaking how tall he stood as the sun settled over Oakland Hills Country Club Sunday evening. The 2003 British Open champion, only the second man in history to win a major title in his first attempt, nearly added another before ending up tied for second with Sergio Garcia.

A morning 2-under-par 68 followed by an afternoon 71 on windswept and pernicious Oakland Hills was bold and sturdy, and if it didn't win him the 90th PGA Championship, it did earn Curtis more respect, not to mention an automatic berth on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

"I guess if you're going to finish second and they tell you that you qualify for the Ryder Cup, I think that you'll take it. It almost is a victory in itself," said Curtis, 31, who jumped from 20th to seventh on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list after completing 72 holes at Oakland Hills in 1-under 279.

"It was a goal that I set. I wasn't going to worry about it if I was right on the number and close to making it other way back like I was," he explained. "But I feel like I can help this team, and I know a lot of the guys on the European side, as well, but I think it's going to be good fun."

U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Paul Azinger expressed his eagerness to have Curtis on a team that will not have No. 1 Tiger Woods.

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"I've had my eye on him for a long time," Azinger said. "He's tenacious. You have to like his demeanor. He doesn't back down, which is what you want from a guy. I know he'll be an asset to the team."

Curtis, runner-up earlier this year at the Wachovia Championship, put his grit and guile on display on a garishly obdurate layout that yielded just 28 sub-par rounds all week. He ranked a mere 45th in driving distance among the 73 players who made the cut, and he was in the middle of the pack on accuracy, too, hitting just over half of the firm, tilting, rough- and bunker-lined fairways. Still, he ranked sixth in greens in regulation and routinely knocked in 6- and 8-footers for pars to keep himself in the hunt.

"What Ben does is get it in the hole well," said former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk. "He won't dazzle you with any stats, but he's tough. He's gutty. He will make some putts, get up and down for pars. He doesn't waste shots, which, in a major, will keep you competitive."

"He certainly plays well in all aspects," added Justin Rose, who was paired with Curtis during a chilly third round Sunday morning. "He drives it solid, and his short game is class. And he has a wonderful temperament in big events. He doesn't get in contention a lot, but when he does, he knows how to stay there."

A three-time winner on the PGA TOUR, Curtis couldn't have gotten off to a better start Sunday afternoon, making birdie at the first from 15 feet to extend his 54-hole lead from one shot over J.B. Holmes ? who triple-bogeyed the first on the way to a painful 81 ? to three over Henrik Stenson, Harrington and Garcia.

He maintained that advantage, getting as low as 4 under par, until Garcia overtook him at the ninth following consecutive bogeys. Another bogey at the 11th knocked him down to 1 under, but Curtis rebounded with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 12th and then a splendid 7-iron set up a 15-footer at 14.

A bogey at 15 after a wayward drive left him in a three-way tie for the lead at 2 under with Harrington and Garcia. His bid essentially ended when his 4-iron to the par-3 17th scooted through the green into a gnarly lie from which he could not get up and down.

"I just hit it a little thin, when I needed to hit it a bit more solid," he said.

Overall, however, the steely kid from suburban Columbus, Ohio, who used to sneak out in his pajamas in the middle of the night to practice putting on the family-owned public golf course his grandfather built, brought as much game as he possessed to the year?s final major, and he nearly got it done.

Having finished tied for seventh last month at the British Open at Royal Birkdale, Curtis put himself in fine company as one of 11 men to finish in the top 10 in two majors this year. He also qualified for the 2009 Masters and PGA Championship in what was his last automatic berth in a major from his '03 Open Championship victory.

It was an all-around clutch effort ? not unexpected by those who know him.

It was, more or less, exactly the kind of play he expects from himself.

"I think it's just my style of golf, the way I play," he said in explaining his 11 career top-10s on TOUR include four in majors. "I think that the harder the shot I have, the more I concentrate and the more I feel like I have the ability to pull those things off.

"I strive on making pars in majors. And you know that at the end of the week if you shoot even par, you're not going to be far off the lead, it doesn't matter how easy or hard the golf course is," he added. "There might be some weeks where you'll be way back, but you're going to feel pretty good about your game because they are the four toughest tests you see all year, and I think I just -
because I drive the ball fairly straight, and I feel like I am a good putter, and I'm a little streaky.

"But I feel like I have good pace on my stroke, as well, that I don't have a tendency to three-putt too much. And so I think that you just live up to it, I just strive to play good on these hard golf courses."

Curtis has never played at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., site of the 37th Ryder Cup next month. He saw it on television extensively Saturday while sitting in the player's dining room waiting out the weather delay that pushed him into a 36-hole workday on Sunday. CBS Sports was re-airing the final round of the 2000 PGA Championship that Woods won by outlasting Bob May in a playoff.

The course, designed by fellow central Ohioan Jack Nicklaus, has been renovated since then. Nevertheless, Curtis was paying close attention.

"I thought I might get a chance to see it again," he said with a grin.

He will. He earned it.

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