Curtis grabs lead at NEC Invitational

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

AKRON, Ohio British Open champion Ben Curtis has a chance to make history again, this time as the only guy to start a golf tournament as a bachelor and win it as a husband.

Two days away from his wedding, Curtis took his mind off matrimony long enough Thursday to post his best score on the PGA Tour, a 6-under 64 that gave him a share of the lead with Sergio Garcia in the NEC Invitational.

Tiger Woods, who has won the last three times at Firestone, shot a 65 and was impressed that Curtis was able to play this well with so many distractions around him.

''Let's just say if he's in contention, I want to see how tired he is on Sunday morning,'' Woods said with a laugh.

The wedding originally was scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday in the suburb of Stow, about a 30-minute drive from Firestone.

Of course, the invitations were mailed before Curtis, a 500-1 long shot, won the British Open and became the first player in 90 years to win a major championship in his first try.

He figured he still could play and make it to the chapel on time.

He never counted on leading a World Golf Championship the week of his wedding.

Curtis hit a 9-iron just inches from the cup on No. 18 for a tap-in birdie, and saw his fiancee, Candace Beatty, and several members of the wedding party behind the green.

''She was smiling and cheering away,'' Curtis said. ''I think she's going to say, 'Well, the rehearsal dinner (Friday night) might be pushed back a little bit,' but I think she'll be happy.

''This will be the best week of my life no matter what I shoot.''

It sure wasn't a bad start.

Curtis missed the cut last week in the PGA Championship, and while he has played Firestone about 20 times, no one expected much out of him this week with so much weighing on his mind.

The rehearsal Friday. The wedding Saturday. A world-class field all around him.

''It's kind of funny,'' Curtis said. ''When you tell yourself to not worry about it, to just have fun, you go out there and play really good. A lot of times, you want to play good and you get tense. I was having fun, and the hole just seemed like it got bigger and bigger.''

Garcia also missed the cut at Oak Hill last week, although his game has slowly been turning around. He birdied four straight holes in the middle of his round, the last three from inside 2 feet, until he was slowed by a bogey on the par-3 12th.

He finished off his 64 with a 15-foot birdie on the final hole.

Because the NEC Invitational adjusts the pairings after each round, Garcia and Curtis will be in the final group Friday.

Garcia, chatty as ever, is sure to bring up the big day.

''I'll tell you what, if he's doing well, Saturday night is going to be a big night,'' Garcia said. ''Because a wedding ... what do you do? Do you get drunk or you don't? A lot of decisions are going to be made that night.''

Reno-Tahoe Open

RENO, Nev. Bob Tway, Kirk Triplett, Paul Stankowski, Steve Pate and Andy Miller had 5-under 67s to share the lead at the Reno-Tahoe Open before a Sierra thunderstorm suspended play for the day.

Luke Donald, J.P. Hayes, Dennis Paulson and Cameron Beckman were a stroke back, but more than half of the field was unable to complete the round at the Montreux Golf & Country Club.

First-round play was set to resume at 8 a.m. Friday, with the second round to follow.

LPGA Tour

KUTZTOWN, Pa. Emilee Klein birdied her last three holes in a 6-under 66 and held a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Wachovia LPGA Classic.

Meg Mallon, Carin Koch, Dawn Coe-Jones, Soo-Yun Kang and Sunny Lee were tied for second at the Berkleigh Country Club course.

Defending champion Se Ri Pak finished with a 70. Pak, already a three-time winner on tour this year, had three birdies in a steady performance.



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