- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Booz Allen Classic is working on a farewell that would make George Foreman blush.

Another round of torrential rains at TPC at Avenel limited play to only 89 minutes yesterday, forcing runaway leader Ben Curtis to postpone his official victory celebration for yet another day.

“It’s unreal,” Curtis said of the record rainfall which will give the PGA Tour its first Tuesday finish since the 1980 Tucson Open. “But you wait three years, so I guess I can wait another day.”

Unless the 2003 British Open champion somehow misses this morning’s 7:30 restart, which is not open to the public, he is going to win this week’s interminable event. If and when play begins this morning, Curtis will be standing over a 28-foot par putt on the 17th green with a seven-stroke lead in hand. Not even Jean Van de Velde, blindfolded and drunk, could squander such a margin. Stranger things have not happened.

“It’s going to be sweet, that’s for sure,” said Curtis, who will finally shed his one-hit-wonder label by backing up his British Open shocker at Royal St. George’s. “It’s been a long couple of years. It’s been frustrating, but I kept my mind in it, kept focused.”

That focus has been the most impressive part of Curtis’ uprising at Avenel. In spite of apocalyptic weather, a handful of extended delays and the leader board comings and goings of everyone from desperate Argentine Jose Coceres (11 under) to tournament favorite Padraig Harrington (15 under), Curtis has carded just two over-par scores in 70 holes en route to what will be a six-day, five-night, wire-to-wire victory.

The second of those paltry hiccups came yesterday, as Curtis cleaned up Sunday’s water-logged approach to the 12th with a two-putt double-bogey following the resumption of play. That miscue, combined with Harrington’s birdie at the 16th, momentarily trimmed Curtis’ lead to five strokes. But the Columbus, Ohio, native never grimaced. He simply followed his first misstep in 44 holes on the 6,987-yard, par-71 course with three ho-hum pars before stuffing his approach at the 16th to kickaway distance.

That birdie, combined with his clearance of the water off the 17th tee, effectively ended the tournament, though six players still have a couple more swings to take, scorecards to sign and a pile of gold to divide.

Given the state of the course following Sunday’s weather, it’s amazing any golf at all was played at Avenel yesterday. Sunday night’s six-inch deluge washed out the bridge between the 10th green and 11th tee, turned bunkers into ponds and left uprooted trees and debris scattered all over the course.

“[Avenel superintendent] Dennis Ingram and his staff have done a fantastic job getting this golf course ready to go,” 26-year PGA Tour tournament director Mark Russell said yesterday. “From what everyone says, we’re talking record rainfall in the D.C. area. Record rainfall? How long have they been keeping records? Back to the 1800s? No, I have never seen anything like this. And I hope I never do again.”

In spite of the work of Ingram and his crew, yesterday’s second batch of storms simply overwhelmed the course shortly after 1:30, leaving a stream running through the 18th green and turning the greenside bunker Steve Stricker (15 under through 16 holes) found off the 17th tee into a water hazard.

“I have never seen it rain so hard for so long,” Curtis said of the torrent that ended the day’s play. “I mean, three inches in three hours. That’s insane. On 18, there was a lake in the middle of the green. It’s kind of comical in a way.”

Note — The British Open qualifier at Congressional CC originally scheduled for yesterday was also rained out and will begin today at 8 a.m with players teeing off on both the gold and blue courses. The format for the 150-man field will be 18 holes of stroke play, and the six low scorers on each course will qualify for next month’s 135th British Open at Royal Liverpool (July 17-23). If weather makes the completion of play impossible today, then the R&A; has decided the spots will be awarded to the 12 highest ranked players in the field according to the most recent official world golf rankings.

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