Cook: Curtis' big month might be a classic

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FARMINGTON -- Only one thing for sure can stop Ben Curtis today at the 84 Lumber Classic.

It is not Thurston Howell III.

Sorry, I've been waiting all week to write that.

It's not Charles Howell III who is the biggest threat to Curtis even though the two share the lead at 12-under par heading into the final round this afternoon. It's not any of the 16 golfers who are within four shots of them, either. It's a call from Curtis' wife, Candace, back home in Stow, Ohio.

"If I get it, I'm going," Curtis said.

Yes, Mrs. Curtis is very pregnant. It's not to the point Curtis is carrying a beeper the way Phil Mickelson did at the 1999 U.S. Open when he was ready to abandon his duel against Payne Stewart at any second because his wife, Amy, was due with their first child. But Candace Curtis is close enough with their first -- within nine days, actually -- that her hubby gave serious thought to skipping the tournament.

"We talked about it a lot Tuesday night," Curtis said. "She had moved two inches, but she hadn't dilated yet. If she had, I wouldn't be here ...

"I keep telling her, 'Hang in there, baby. Just hang in there.'"

And if mom and baby don't cooperate?

It would be hard for Curtis to walk away from the chance at that $828,000 first prize -- that would buy a lot of diapers, you know -- but he would do it in a heartbeat.

Bravo for him.

He gets my early vote for Father of the Year.

"Of course, you go home," Curtis said. "Your first kid is born only one time. I wouldn't miss that for the world."

It's nice to think Curtis will be able to stick around because he has a real shot and he would be such a popular champion. Maybe not as popular as Michelle Wie or John Daly or even pudgy everyman Jason Gore, the 84 Lumber winner last year. But popular, nonetheless.

It's not hard to imagine the chants during the trophy and check presentation at the 18th green if Curtis does win.

Here we go, Steelers, here we go ...

"Yep, I heard that today at 17 and 18," Curtis said.

There's an explanation.

Not long after Curtis won the 2003 British Open, he was hired by Reebok to wear its NFL merchandise. The deal is he has to wear the gear to tournaments where there's a pro team nearby.

You have to understand Curtis wasn't a geography major at Kent State. When he came to the 84 Lumber Classic in 2004, he wore his Cleveland Browns' outfits because he thought Cleveland was the closest big city. He was booed soundly.

"It wasn't pretty," Curtis said.

Since then, it has been all black and gold. The golf fans here love it.

He hates it. What self-respecting Browns' fan wouldn't loathe wearing Steelers' colors?

"It is tough," Curtis said, "but it's good to get the home team behind me."

Curtis' game has been worthy of the cheers this weekend. He has put together three solid rounds in the 60s -- 66, 69 and another 69 yesterday. Now, he is in great position to become a 2006 multiple winner on the PGA Tour.

After Curtis won the '03 British Open at Royal St. George's to become the first golfer in 90 years to win a major in his first try, it seemed like there would be a lot of championships for him. The world was his. He did the David Letterman show. He did the White House thing with President Bush.

Who knows? Maybe the attention went to Curtis' head. All we know for sure is that his game suffered. He made only 17 of 44 cuts in 04 and '05 and had just three top-10 finishes. Suddenly, it was looking as if he were going to be a one-hit wonder.

Can you say Orville Moody?

He won the 1969 U.S. Open and never won on the regular PGA Tour again.

That's why Curtis' win at the Booz Allen Classic in Potomac, Md., in June was so important to him. The check for $900,000 won't just buy a lot of formula. It bought Curtis peace of mind.

"It gets that monkey off your back," he said. "Now I can go out there and play and not have any worries. There's no pressure. I just go play golf and see what happens."

Curtis has an incredible opportunity today.

He has a chance to become the most famous Big Ben in these parts.

Sorry, I got carried away there.

Even a Browns' fan knows there's only one Big Ben in this town.

But Curtis still has a chance to win the tournament and add to what is about to become the best month of his life.



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