LEMONT, Ill. -- Ben Curtis' game is starting to come around,
just in time for the British Open.
The 2003 British Open champion shot a bogey-free, 7-under 64
Thursday, giving him a share of the lead at the Western Open with
Jim Furyk and Todd Fischer. The score was one shy of the course
record, and gave the trio a two-stroke lead over former Western
champ Robert Allenby, Harrison Frazar and Chad Campbell.
"I made it very simple on myself, didn't get in any trouble off
the tee with the thick rough," Curtis said. "I just played very
solid. ... Everything clicked together today."
Fan favorite John Daly, playing his first Western since 1996,
finished at 2-under 69 after almost holing his second shot on the
Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh didn't look like the top two players
in the world. Woods, who couldn't get the ball close to the pin all
afternoon, shot a 2-over 73 and has some work to do to make the
cut. Singh shot 72.
"If I shoot 64, 65, I'll be right back in this thing where I
could win it," Woods said.
Curtis was a rookie just trying to hold onto his PGA Tour card
when he won the British two years ago, beating Singh and Thomas
Bjorn by a stroke. Though he's had some good rounds here and there,
he's never come close to duplicating his run at Royal St. George's.
He had one top-10 finish last year, and finished 141st. This
year, he's made the cut only twice in 14 tries, and his best finish
was a tie for 56th at Wachovia.
"I am in a slump," he said. "This year has just been up and
down. It just seems like one week I'd hit the ball poorly and then
the next week I'd putt poorly. So it's been everything, to be
While expectations for him are higher than they were, say, two
years ago at this time, Curtis said he's not feeling pressure
because he's won a major. He just isn't playing well.
"I don't want to say it was this and that, because it wasn't,"
he said. "It was all just a part of how I was playing."
After missing the cut at the past three tournaments, Curtis
spent last week at his home in Stow, Ohio. Instead of getting away
from the game he threw himself into it, playing a couple of rounds
at different courses.
Somewhere along the way, things started to click. He was playing
better, giving him more confidence. And the more confidence he had,
the better he played.
That confidence carried over to his round Thursday. On the first
hole, the par-4 No. 1, he put a 9-iron within an inch from 140
yards out. He made a nice run on the back, picking up five strokes
in a six-hole span. He birdied the par-3 12th and par-4 14th, then
eagled No. 15.
He used a 3-wood to get within 12 feet from 240 yards out, then
made the putt. He followed with another birdie on 17, making a
20-footer that went into the hole as if it was on a track.
"I'm still a long ways away from playing really good golf," he
said. "It's coming, but I'd like to put four good rounds together
instead of one or two. That's the key thing right now. No
expectations for this weekend, just go out there, try to play good
golf and see what can happen.
"Obviously I know I can win," he added. "But there are still
parts of my game that I still need to improve on."
Furyk's game, meanwhile, is in fine shape. But he thanks
everyone for asking.
Furyk, who won the 2003 U.S. Open at nearby Olympia Fields,
missed most of last year because of wrist surgery. He played only
14 tournaments and finished without a win for the first time since
Furyk has three runner-up finishes this year, but is still
looking for his first victory since the 2003 Buick Open. And it has
nothing to do with his wrist.
"I'm looking forward -- no offense -- to the time when the
questions revolve around other things instead of the wrist and the
surgery and the injury and coming back and the shape of the game,"
he said. "I understand why that is, but I really feel like in the
last four or five months, I've really played well and I feel good
about my game."
Furyk looked like he might break through at last week's Barclays
Classic, taking a three-stroke lead over Padraig Harrington with
five holes to go. But Furyk made back-to-back bogeys on 16 and 17
while Harrington holed a big-breaking 65-foot putt on 18 for an
eagle and a one-stroke win.
"Obviously I was disappointed," Furyk said. "It's something I
have to live with and it's something that I have gotten over. This
game is going to beat you up if you dwell on things too long."
Play was delayed by an hour Thursday morning because of a
thunderstorm. ... Furyk, who started on the back nine, made four
straight birdies on Nos. 5-8. ... Local favorite Luke Donald and
defending champion Stephen Ames are in the pack at 1-under 70.