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The curious case of Ben Curtis

ESPN staff
April 24, 2012
Ben Curtis added another trophy to his cabinet on Sunday - after years in the wilderness © Getty Images

Ben Curtis has had a career in reverse.

Grouped in with a collection of other awkward names - Todd Hamilton, Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem - Curtis has spent much of his career thought of as a major winner that never really did enough else in his career to warrant that victory.

Three subsequent wins on the PGA Tour - the latest, following a six-year drought, coming at last week's Texas Open - have done little to erase that feeling. Yet if his career had happened the other way round, the right way round - if three PGA Tour wins had led up to a major breakthrough - he might well be considered quite differently.

Stewart Cink, for example, has won just two more tournaments than Curtis in his career - despite joining the PGA Tour a full eight years before him. Yet his triumph in the 2009 Open Championship was viewed as far more of validation of his prior career than has been the case for Curtis.

So perhaps it is time for a re-evaluation of the American, who came from nowhere to triumph at Royal St Georges after a clutch performance on Sunday as everyone else crumbled around him. He certainly hasn't been the most talented player of his generation - or indeed appear anywhere on that list - but he has found a way of winning remarkably often on the few occasions he finds himself in contention.

"When you come out here and win one, well, if I win one every year I have a great career. That would be true," Curtis said. "But, you know, to get to three, four, five wins - you're a solid player. I just feel like you get yourself into contention and just have that belief, and anything can happen."

Other than the 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational and 2005 Western Open, Curtis has an impressive record of delivery while in contention to win a tournament. He also relinquished a winning position at the 2008 US PGA Championship - but that perhaps that is something that can be credited more to the great final round of Padraig Harrington rather than his crumbling under pressure.

To put it simply, Curtis has not been in contention as often as you would expect for someone with four career wins, let alone one that includes a major triumph. He seems to have a remarkable knack for getting his game into shape to contend once or twice a year and then maximising that to go on and secure victory.

His victory on Sunday was even more remarkable, considering his form up until that week had left him with very few invites to professional events. After years of struggling, victory was one way he could secure his medium-term future in the game ... and that's what he did.

Where would the likes of Lee Westwood - a winner at a weak field event in Indonesia the same weekend - be with a similar killer instinct?

You can't say Curtis is a great player; indeed he has suffered a certain amount of criticism for that ever since his breakthrough in Sandwich nearly nine years ago. But he is certainly one of the greatest players in contention the game has seen in recent years.

That has to count for something. At the very least, that we afford a bit more respect than those other 'unworthy' major winners he has been mentioned alongside for so much of his career.

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