Curtis, Furyk, Fischer open with 64
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 par-4 18th.
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 honest."
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 1997.
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.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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