SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Six years later, Ben Curtis is a PGA Tour champion again.
His victory Sunday in the Texas Open didn't come easy. Neither did his words describing the redemption of nearly a decade spent falling from British Open champion to, this year, waiting by the phone simply for a chance to play.
His voice quivered, and his eyes welled up.
“It's been a tough couple years just fighting through it,'' Curtis said.
Holding off Matt Every and John Huh in a tense back-nine finish, Curtis finished with flourish by holing a 12-footer for birdie on the par-5 18th, sealing a two-stroke victory and his fourth PGA Tour title. His even-par 72 put him at 9 under and triggered a wave of emotions that Curtis said he didn't know were in him.
Curtis won $1,116,000 and a two-year tour exemption – a more meaningful reward after being relegated to a status so low that this victory came in just the fourth PGA Tour event he managed to get into this year.
“You think you're just staying positive and not worried about it, but I think deep down, you realize all the hard work you put in that, you know, finally paid off,'' Curtis said.
It was 2003 when Curtis kissed the Claret Jug at Royal St. George's with a square jawline and closely cropped black hair. This time, he was handed a pair of cowboy boots, smiling with a rounder face and a better appreciation of the journey.
“When you come out here and win one, well, if I win one every year I have a great career. That would be true,'' Curtis said. “But, you know, to get to three, four, five wins – you're a solid player. I just feel like you get yourself into contention and just have that belief, and anything can happen.''
Every had a 71 and lost a chance at his first tour win with a shaky putter. Huh roared back with a 69, but the Mayakoba Classic winner fell just short of completing what would have been a remarkable comeback.
Huh nearly withdrew Thursday when he plunged to 5 over through only his first three holes and finished with a 77. But he rebounded with rounds of 68 and 67 to give Curtis and Every another player to worry about Sunday.
“I didn't really expect too much, final round,'' Huh said.
While Huh's first round was ultimately too big of a hole to overcome, Every couldn't close the deal after starting the tournament with a course-record 63. Four blown putts from 9 feet or closer – including a 6-footer for birdie – kept Every a stroke back until Curtis birdied No. 18.
It was nonetheless a validating week for the 28-year-old Floridian, whose only name recognition in three winless years on the tour was a misdemeanor marijuana arrest as a rookie in 2010. That earned a PGA Tour suspension, and even now, Every's official biography lists regaining his tour privileges as his biggest achievement.
“A little bummed out,'' Every said. “Kind of a pillow fight there for a while between the three of us.''
If missing one badly needed putt after another was a learning experience, Every didn't want to hear it.
“Been hearing that for about 15 years,'' Every said. “But I don't know, man. I mean they got to go in sometimes and it didn't today, but maybe it will one day. Saving for something bigger, maybe.''
Defending champion Brendan Steele, a distant afterthought for three rounds, made himself known again at TPC San Antonio with a bogey-free 67 to finish an impressive weekend climb from 56th. He tied for fourth with Bob Estes (69), Brian Gay (70), and Charlie Wi (71) at 5 under.
Curtis wasn't the only emotional player on No. 18. Scott Piercy walked to the final hole tied for fourth at 5 under but walked off snapping his putter in half with two furious strikes over his knee. That was after the tour journeyman quadruple-bogeyed in a meltdown that started with a penalty stroke and ended with him tossing his glove in disgust after two-putting.
Piercy finished the round at par and eight back. Matt Kuchar, the tournament's top-ranked player at No. 15, had a 73 to finish at 2 under.