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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 24, 2003

Curtis, Stadler make giant splashes with tourney wins

By Bill Kwon

Craig Stadler pushed his 2003 winnings to $1,072,747 with his win at the B.C. Open on Sunday.

Associated Press

PGA Tour rookie Ben Curtis and an old familiar face, Craig Stadler, made golf history with probably the most improbable victories Sunday.

Curtis beat the world's best to win the British Open in his first major start, while Stadler beat the best of the rest at the B.C. Open to become the first senior tour player to win a PGA event.

As NBC golf commentator Johnny Miller would say, "amazing stuff."

"Big Ben," as they're now calling the 26-year-old Ohio native, relegated "The Walrus" to the back pages of the sports sections, justifiably so because the British Open is THE tournament in golf. It is 132 years old. No wonder, when you say, "The Open," every golf fan knows what tournament you're talking about.

And Curtis will get all the perks that come with the victory — a chance to play in the British Open until he's 65, five-year exemptions to the other three majors, a spot in the World Match Play Championship in October and, yes, the third spot in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf on Kaua'i this December, joining Masters champion Mike Weir and U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk.

Curtis also became eligible to play in the winners-only Mercedes Championships next January at Kapalua, Maui, along with Stadler, who will be playing in that event for the first time at the Plantation Course, thanks to his first PGA Tour victory in seven years.

Stadler will be trying to make more history this week at the British Senior Open in Turnberry, Scotland, seeking his third victory in as many weeks. Prior to winning the B.C. Open, Stadler captured the Ford Senior Players Championships, a Champions Tour major.

Gary Planos, Kapalua's vice president of golf operations, was excited about Stadler's victory, so much so that he had to call Stadler's agent Lynn Roach in Virginia to relay his congratulations.

"As soon as I saw Alex Cejka hit his ball in the water at 18, I called Lynn," Planos said. "He told me he didn't want to watch it on TV. He didn't want to jinx him. He did the same thing the week before."

Stadler shot a 9-under-par 63, a tournament record, to rally from eight shots back to win. Not bad for a guy who missed the cut in this year's Sony Open in Hawai'i.

Stadler, though, has always been a gallery favorite at Waialae Country Club, except perhaps in 1990 when he was the only contender left when David Ishii won the United Airlines Hawaiian Open. Playing with Ishii and Hubert Green in Sunday's final group, Stadler missed makeable birdie putts on the last four holes, including a 3-footer at 18, to send the fans home happy.

The par-73 Plantation is a tough walking course, but Planos is sure Stadler will play in the Mercedes.

"Craig has always come to Maui for a vacation, even when he's not golfing," Planos said. "And he's played in the Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua International (there)."

There's another good reason why Stadler will show up. It will be a good lead-in to the MasterCard Championship, the 2004 senior tour season opener, which will be held the following week at the Hualalai Resort on the Big Island.

Stadler could opt to play in the Sony Open that same week, but why bother? It's money in the bank in the no-cut, limited-field MasterCard event.

With his victory Sunday, Stadler now has won $1,072,747 in combined earnings on both tours this year, topping the $1 million mark for the first time in his career.

While Stadler is enjoying his career "mulligan" on the senior circuit, Curtis is poised to make his presence known on the regular tour.

"Curtis is going to be the big Cinderella story of our PGA Grand Slam," said Michael Castillo, director of golf at the site of the elite event involving the winners of golf's four major championships.

"He's not a household name," Castillo said, "but I think we'll be pleasantly surprised.

"Winning a major means you're a great player."

Still, Castillo is not sure how to feel with Tiger Woods not yet eligible to defend the Grand Slam title he has won for the past five years.

Talk about a tough tournament to get into. Woods has one final shot in the PGA Championship next month.

Of course, Woods can be an alternate if Curtis wins the next major, Castillo said kiddingly.

Even then, Woods is third on the alternate list, trailing Vijay Singh and Ernie Els. If he doesn't win, Woods will need to finish well ahead of Singh and Els to overtake them in the point standings as first alternate.

For the first time since the PGA Grand Slam moved to Kaua'i, and the Po'ipu Bay Resort since 1994, it will be played on the weekend (Dec. 5-6).

"I think it'll be great. The whole mindset changes when you go on a weekend," Castillo said.

True. But the only mindset that really matters is having Tiger around for the weekend.

This and that: Former Kapalua pro Dick McClean, who now plays out of California, is entered in this week's British Senior Open. ... After taking two weeks off, Hawai'i's Dean Wilson is playing in the Greater Hartford Open. But, no, he's not paired with Suzy Whaley the first two days. ... Tiger Woods finally took over the 2003 money lead with $4.5 million, with Mike Weir second at $4.3 million and Davis Love III next at $4.2 million. It's a big deal because nobody has won the PGA money title five straight years. Besides Woods, only Tom Watson ever made it four in a row. ... Mel Nagata, formerly of Waikele, is the new head golf professional at the Pearl Country Club. ... Michelle Wie is attempting to become the third Hawai'i golfer to win the U.S. Girls Junior Championship. The other two are Althea Tome (1977) and Lori Castillo (1978).

Bill Kwon can be reached at bkwon@aloha.net.