Curtis, Rose two of a kind at Buick
CROMWELL, Conn. -- Brad Faxon was busy answering questions in the media center after his victory at the Buick Championship when he abruptly cut off an interviewer and turned his attention to a nearby television.
Dana Quigley, a fellow Rhode Island native, was on the screen, hitting a shot at the Tradition.
Boy, those Ocean State guys sure stick together.
The Weekly 18 begins with two other players who have been grouped in a similar category: Former major standouts who are trying to regain some good feelings.
There are hazards on the TPC River Highlands course, but no burns. Haggis isn't on the menu, even if someone actually did want to eat it. And you can still hit a dunch from a claggy lie, but no one will have any idea what you're talking about.
In short, the course located in the heartland of Connecticut is not in the British Open rotation.
Curtis broke through at Royal St. George's two years ago, earning a major victory in relative anonymity. Rose's time in the spotlight came five years earlier, when he holed out on the 72nd hole at Royal Birkdale to finish T-4 as a 17-year-old amateur.
"For me, it seems a long way in my past," Rose said on Sunday. "For Ben, it's not so much, but definitely some similarity there."
That both golfers failed to win the Buick Championship after playing in the final pairing during the weekend rounds is eminently symbolic of their post-breakthrough careers. Rose finished one shot back in third place and Curtis ended in a share of fourth, but neither has come close to the success he achieved across the pond.
The stories are hardly surprising, considering how little experience each one had when he reached his British epiphany. It will be even more shocking, however, if they fail to continue living up to these high standards. Both players have a ton of talent and while Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia are named as the obvious successors to Tiger Woods' crown of Best Player Under 30 when the world's top player hits that number later this year, don't forget about Curtis and Rose.
When Faxon made birdie on the seventh hole -- his 16th hole of the day -- on Friday, there wasn't much cause for celebration. After finishing with two pars for a two-round total of even-par 140, Faxon was so certain he would miss the cut that he bet official Johnny Andrews in the scorer's tent $286.67 (his entire check for finishing T-8 in the Wednesday pro-am) that he would miss the cut. In fact, Faxon was packing his things at his hotel room when he found out that he'd be around for the weekend. Two days and only 126 shots later (plus three on the extra hole), he became the first PGA Tour winner to make the cut on the number since Jose Maria Olazabal at the 2002 Buick Invitational.
Officially, Faxon's drive at the par-4 17th hole on Sunday was listed at 329 yards -- easily the longest tee shot of the week for the relatively short hitter. But this was no rainbow bomb that landed soft in the fairway. Faxon drew his ball right to left and found the cart path that borders the left side of the hole. Like the Energizer Bunny, his ball kept going ... and going ... and going ... until it came to a stop just 109 yards from the hole. He made a crucial par from there. When described to Faxon as a "lucky" shot, he responded, "What are you talking about?" before finally conceding, "That was a lucky break."
Up next for Faxon: A morning tee time with a certain general manager of the reigning World Series champs, as part of this week's Deutsche Bank Championship festivities. "I've got Theo Epstein at 9 o'clock on the first tee," Faxon said. "I heard he can't play, either."
Darron Stiles tried to have a Faxon-like finish at the Buick, but it didn't happen. Stiles played his final eight holes on Friday in 2 under to make the weekend on the number, just like Faxon. But at least the eventual winner had a playing partner come Saturday. Playing solo in the first "group" off the tee, Stiles shot a 7-under 63 -- in three hours and five minutes -- to charge from T-68 to seventh place. He followed with a final-round 68 to finish T-9, his second top-10 finish this season.
As college seniors, Michael Putnam and Jeff Overton each made the All-America team this past season. Recently, they played together on the winning side of the U.S. Walker Cup team. And as of last week, they were both scheduled to compete in the U.S. Amateur. Instead, each one received a sponsor's exemption from the Buick Championship (one of the tournament's great traditions is handing out these exemptions to young, promising players) and high-tailed it for Hartford. That's where they went their separate ways. Overton, a recent University of Indiana grad, shot 77-68 to miss the cut. Meanwhile, Putnam, who was the NCAA Division I runner-up at Pepperdine, shot an opening-round 65 and a closing-round 63, each of which buoyed him to a T-4. Not only did that finish earn him a spot in this week's Deutsche Bank Championship, but the publicity he received will surely garner more sponsor's exemptions down the road this season.
Another year, another winless appearance for the University of Hartford trio at TPC River Highlands -- but they're getting closer, at least. Jerry Kelly, Tim Petrovic and Patrick Sheehan are each local heroes (along with Fairfield, Conn., native J.J. Henry) and among the annual popular picks to win. It's yet to happen, but each fared well this week, as Kelly finished T-4, Petrovic was T-31 and Sheehan was T-42.
The Buick Championship could be in trouble. With a field that included only three top-30 players, surprisingly small galleries and a course that was below its usual standards, don't be surprised if the longtime event ceases to exist when the PGA Tour revamps its schedule for the 2007 season. Perhaps the only thing that can breathe life into the tournament: An appearance from a certain Buick spokesman on the course. Woods currently plays Buick events in San Diego and Michigan, but if the sponsor really wants the Hartford-based event to succeed, it will ask the world's top player to drive the company car down Route 9 in Connecticut and play next year.
While we're calling out top players for failing to show in Hartford, where in the world was Phil Mickelson this week? Sure, he's had a whirlwind couple of weeks after winning the PGA Championship, but it's a common courtesy for former champions to continue showing up at events they've won. Mickelson became the only back-to-back winner of the event in 2002, and now he's the only back-to-back winner to skip the week in back-to-back years.
Looks like Steve Williams will be keeping his card this year. Woods' caddie, who's probably more recognizable to the casual golf observer than 98 percent of touring professionals, has had quite a few major paydays this season. According to our math, using standard caddie fees (10 percent of a player's earnings for a win; seven percent for a top 10; and five percent for making the cut), Williams has made about $764,748 for carrying his boss' bag in tour events this year. This includes five instances (Woods' five victories) of $86,000 or more. Using that figure, Williams would have ranked 79th on the money list entering the Buick Championship, wedged right in between Steve Flesch and Bob Estes.
If Tiger asks his caddie for a club at the Presidents Cup and is handed a large stogie instead, well, there's a good excuse. That's because Williams is taking some time off to be with his fiancée, who is expecting the couple's first child soon. Instead, Billy Foster, the regular caddie for cigar-smoking Darren Clarke, will be on the bag for the international event.
Francesco Molinari is currently 88th on the European Tour's Order of Merit. He's making some pretty good coin playing golf for a living and -- perhaps best of all -- gets to hold that over the head of his older brother, Edoardo. Not any longer. Sure, younger bro still may have the better checkbook, but Edoardo, who's 22 months older than Francesco, earned the prestigious title of U.S. Amateur champion on Sunday. Down three holes at the break during the 36-hole match, Molinari stormed back, needing just 18 putts over the final 15 holes to defeat Dillon Dougherty. In the ever-expanding world of golf, Molinari is one of few Italians to break through for a major win, joining 1997 U.S. Women's Amateur champ Silvia Cavalleri as the only natives of that country to claim a USGA title.
For those of you who didn't like reading those cutesy headlines throughout the week from the U.S. Amateur, we have one suggestion (borrowed, of course, from the kids of South Park): Blame Canada. Just months after Canada native and University of Washington golfer James Lepp won the NCAA Division I individual title, inspiring many "Lepp of Faith" headlines, two more editor-friendly Canadians burst onto the scene at Merion. Ryan Yip and Andrew Parr were among the leaders after two days of stroke play before falling in match play (Yip in the quarterfinals, Parr in the first round). Yip is a recent Kent State grad and Parr is a senior at Texas A&M, but as far as we're concerned, each one owns a name that's worth its weight in gold.
How about the discrepancy in this matchup: 52-year-old career amateur George Zahringer's second-round opponent at Merion was Oliver Fisher, 16, of England. That's a 36-year difference between players, and experience may have been the determining factor as Zahringer defeated the Walker Cup player, 5 and 4.
Loyalty is not dead in the world of professional golf. Jason Gore, who won three Nationwide events earlier this year to gain full-time PGA Tour status, is heading back to the minors for a quick stint in a few weeks. Gore will compete in the Boise Open -- if he's granted permission from the tour, that is -- where he won his third career Nationwide event back in 2002. Tournament officials invited Gore shortly after his recent promotion.
John Daly has nothing on Nationwide Tour player Bubba Watson. The 26-year-old from Bagdad, Fla., ranks first on his tour in driving distance at a whopping 336.4 yards per shot. By comparison, the runner-up in that category, Steven Bowditch, trails by almost 21 yards. And Scott Hend, who leads the PGA Tour in distance, is 18 yards behind Watson. But Bubba won't be the Nationwide Tour leader for too much longer. Ranked 10th on the money list, he's a virtual lock to bring the long ball to the big leagues next season.
As the golf world was focused on Connecticut this week, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention two new courses in the state. For years, the Foxwoods resort had gaming, food, drinks -- everything a golfer could want ... except golf. That has recently changed with a pair of courses -- one public, one private -- named Lake of Isles, just across the street from the world's largest casino. Could this be a trend? Don't be surprised if the inclusion of big-time golf becomes standard practice at casino resorts around the country.
"I didn't really think about the money until I kind of tapped in my putt on 18 and I realized I didn't have to sweat over the one-footer, and I realized I just made 100 times what's in my bank account."
-- Michael Putnam on winning $177,733 at the Buick Championship.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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