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Two champs in a no-win situation

Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis have no PGA Tour titles since claiming the British Open.

By BOB HARIG
Published July 12, 2005


ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - Funny thing about major championships. Victory brings immortality, but also added scrutiny. It isn't enough to win once; you are expected to win again.

Nobody knows that better than Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton.

They are the latest players to have their names engraved on the Claret Jug, the famous trophy that goes to the "champion golfer of the world."

But at various times since their victories in the Open Championship, Curtis and Hamilton would have been content to crawl into the Road Bunker at St. Andrews, site of this week's Open.

Neither has won since.

And until Curtis finished third two weeks ago at the Western Open, neither has really come close.

Such is the state of their games.

"Hopefully I can find a little something, find a little spark to put in a decent attempt at a defense," said Hamilton, the unlikely winner at Royal Troon last year in a four-hole playoff over Ernie Els. "I've always expected a lot out of myself. Maybe that's why I haven't done as well since the Open Championship last year."

It has been a tough year for Hamilton, whose best finish came Sunday at the John Deere Classic, where he tied for 13th. He has just two other top-20 finishes.

Hamilton, 39, was the PGA Tour's "rookie of the year" in 2004 after winning twice, including the Honda Classic.

Although he had never played the PGA Tour, Hamilton made a nice career for himself in Asia, winning seven tournaments in 12 years on the Japan Tour.

So he wasn't completely unknown when he won the Open, just unheralded.

Then, despite being outdriven by some 50 yards on nearly every hole during the final round at Royal Troon, Hamilton stayed with Els, even after the Big Easy birdied two of the last three holes - he missed a 10-footer at No.18 that would have won - to force a four-hole aggregate playoff.

It was there that Els made the mistake, making bogey and three pars to Hamilton's four pars.

In terms of stunning the golf world, however, Hamilton's victory was a cool breeze compared with the storm created by Curtis in 2003 at Royal St. George's.

Curtis had never finished in the top 10 of any PGA Tour event, had never played in a major championship, had never even set foot in the United Kingdom before playing in the British Open.

And despite playing the final seven holes in 4 over par, it was enough to hold off the likes of Vijay Singh, Thomas Bjorn, Tiger Woods and Davis Love. Curtis was the only player under par for the week and became the first in 90 years - since Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open - to win a major in his first attempt.

"It is something I have always dreamt about and I wouldn't change any of it for the world," said Curtis, 28, who might want to change the way things have gone since winning.

Last year, Curtis made just nine cuts in 20 events, with his only top 10 a tie for eighth at the Memorial. He finished 141st on the PGA Tour money list.

This year has not been much better. He had made just two cuts in 13 tournaments before taking the first-round lead at the Western Open and remaining in contention until the back nine Sunday, when he was surpassed by Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods.

"I think more than anything, the stuff that you have to deal with after you win ... all the requirements. I think I just basically got tired," Curtis said. "This year, there's been no excuses. It's like my rookie year again. It's just been a struggle with my game. I mean ... there's no way to explain it.

"When I won (the Open), it was just my rookie year. I deserved to win, but it was kind of a shock to myself that I won it. I was just trying to keep my tour card. I made only a couple hundred thousand dollars up until that time. I wasn't really thinking about winning a golf tournament until Sunday, and I knew there were still parts of my game that I needed to improve. I knew there were going to be setbacks.

"You have to be patient. You need a lot of that and a lot of luck."

A cynic would suggest their luck ran out in each of the British Open wins.

Curtis enjoyed his time as Open champion, even taking advantage of an exemption to play on the European tour. Hamilton has reveled in carrying the Claret Jug to various locations in the past year. This week, he has to give it back.

But no matter how he plays, whether he ever wins another tournament or not, his name - and Curtis' - will always be engraved on the trophy.