Crane rides momentum all the way to the bank


Before this week, Ben Crane was best known as one of the slowest guys on tour. Now he'll be known as a guy who can come from behind in a hurry.

Crane jumped from 60th place to a four-stroke victory at the BellSouth Classic with a 64-63 finish -- the best weekend on the PGA Tour this year.

The second-year player made the cut by a single stroke Friday, and realistically had little reason to believe he could make a move on the weekend. After all, he had only one top-10 in his last 15 starts, and his last victory came in 2001 at the Nationwide Tour's Gila River Classic.

But something clicked Saturday, and Crane rode his newfound momentum all the way to a $720,000 payday, easily the biggest of his career.

More facts and figures from Crane's amazing weekend:

  • His final-round 9-under 63 tied the course record, and was the best Sunday score by a winner since Jonathan Byrd at last year's Buick Challenge (also 9-under).

  • Crane had the best round of the day on both Saturday and Sunday, and his two-day 17-under total was nine strokes better than the next-best weekend score (Stewart Cink 67-69).

  • He made just 47 putts over his final 36 holes, including a 20-footer for eagle on the par-5 72nd hole.

  • Speaking of the 72nd hole, Crane drove it 357 yards off the tee -- 29 yards farther than anyone else in the field Sunday. He later said he was trying to play it conservatively. Crane made the most of his walk to victory down the 18th fairway, exchanging laughs and high-fives with playing partners Olin Browne and Cink.

  • After making a combined total of eight birdies in his first two rounds, Crane made eight each on Saturday and Sunday, and that's not counting his eagle on Sunday.

  • After a record 18 players earned their first victories in 2002, Crane becomes the first first-time winner on the PGA Tour in 2003.

    Five observations
    1. While Crane's story had a happy ending, the same can't be said for a couple veterans looking to end victory droughts of their own.

    Lee Janzen (hasn't won in five years) and Bob Tway (eight years) were 1-2 heading into Sunday's final round, but neither could do anything but watch as Crane lapped them.

    Janzen had a particularly disappointing final round. On a day where a 4-under 68 would have been good enough to win, the 1998 U.S. Open champ struggled to a 5-over 77 that included a 40 on the front nine.

    Tway, meanwhile, made three early birdies to take the top spot, which he kept most of the day until a three-putt bogey at No. 15. Up ahead at No. 16, Crane made a birdie to take the lead for good. Tway had to settle for second place after his final-round 71.

    2. Most of the top players in the world usually take the week of the BellSouth off to prepare for The Masters, but recent history shows those who play well at Sugarloaf often carry that success down the road to Augusta.

    Last year, Retief Goosen parlayed his BellSouth victory into a second-place showing the next week at The Masters. Phil Mickelson had third-place finishes at both events and Padraig Harrington was tied for eighth at the BellSouth and tied for fifth at Augusta.

    In 2001, Mickelson again had third-place finishes at both events, and Chris DiMarco was in the top-10 in each as well. Mickelson won the BellSouth in 2001 and was tied for seventh at that year's Masters.

    So what will this trend mean for 2003? Just five of the top 20 in the BellSouth will make the trip to Augusta, a group that includes Retief Goosen (T3), Chris DiMarco (T9) and Fred Couples (T13).

    3. The losing streak is over!

    OK, so it's quite an exaggeration to call Annika Sorenstam's two-week victory drought in 2003 a losing streak, but she was nevertheless relieved to get win No. 1 under her belt at the Office Depot Championship.

    ''Right now, I'm totally relieved. I fought so hard,'' said Sorenstam, who struggled for much of the three-day tournament. ''My game hasn't been on top, but I fought through it.''

    If she hadn't picked up that first W by the end of April, she likely would have started hearing about it from the critics: "So, Annika, how can you explain your slow start? Are you not completely focused on the LPGA Tour because of your upcoming appearance in the PGA Tour's Colonial?"

    Or ...

    "Annika, if you're having a hard time against your LPGA foes, do you really think you should be playing against PGA Tour players?"

    Bottom line, her win this week will keep questions like that from being asked, and also lifts her back on top of the LPGA Tour money list. It's her 43rd victory in 200 LPGA Tour events (21.5 percent). Tiger Woods, by contrast, has won just over 25 percent of his career starts.

    4. Former U.S. Amateur champion Hank Kuehne was as close as ever to conditional status on the PGA Tour on Sunday.

    Playing on a sponsor's exemption, Kuehne -- who has only conditional status on the Nationwide Tour -- finished tied for third at the BellSouth, just missing a career breakthrough.

    Although he couldn't have known it at the time, Kuehne's 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole was for more than just another stroke in the red. It also would have lifted him into a tie for second place, and earned him enough money to gain temporary status on the PGA Tour for the rest of 2003.

    Kuehne missed the attempt. Still, he can accept four more sponsor's exemptions in 2003, and if he can earn close to $140,000 in those events he'll have status on the PGA Tour for the first time.

    A big hitter off the tee, Kuehne recorded the longest drives on the day on two different holes in Saturday's third round, including a 371-yarder on the par-5 10th. He also aced the 144-yard second hole in the second round and drove the 310-yard, par-4 13th green the last three rounds.

    Kuehne is no stranger to overcoming adversity. A recovering alcoholic, he has also beaten dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and depression.

    5. After missing more than a month for the birth of his third child, Mickelson was more than a little rusty in his return.

    Playing in an event he won in 2000 and finished third in the next two years, Mickelson went 73-79 in the first two rounds to miss the cut by a mile. He hit just 44 percent of the greens in regulation Friday and made triple and double bogeys in his second-worst round of the year.

    Up next ...
    The Masters
    Tiger Woods will be going for a threepeat at the year's first major, which is sure to be transformed into a circus because of the Augusta membership controversy. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus will be back again this year, but Greg Norman will not.

    David Lefort is ESPN.com's golf editor, and can be reached at david.m.lefort@espn3.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.