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Curtis has high hopes after promising 2008

A sizzling run of form in the last six months of 2008 has given former British Open champion Ben Curtis every reason to eye this year with relish.

The American failed to add another title to his resume but produced four top-10s in his last seven starts on the PGA Tour, including a tie for seventh at the British Open and a runner-up spot at the PGA Championship.

He finished fifth at the elite season-ending Tour Championship, climbing to 17th in the Tour's final money list with career-high earnings of $2.615 million.

"If I could always play like that, like the last six months of the year, I couldn't wish for more," Curtis, 31, told Reuters.

"Every week I was playing well. Even if I missed the cut, it was close to being really good. My form was great.

"Overall, though, I can still get better and I need to improve. Every time I left the golf course, I always felt like there were one or two shots I could have done better."

Asked to pinpoint the weakest area of his game, the three-times PGA Tour winner said he did not hit his iron shots as well as he wanted to.

"I'd leave three or four out there but my short game was good enough that I got away with it.

"And of course I need to make a few more putts. I don't think any pro out there will tell you they make enough puts. It just seems like I left a lot of 12-15 footers out there that could have gone in. But overall I'm not complaining."

Curtis's most vivid memory of last year came during the U.S. Ryder Cup triumph over Europe in Louisville, Kentucky.

Making his Ryder Cup debut, Curtis partnered Steve Stricker in the second day fourballs at Valhalla Golf Club against a tough European combination of Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey.

The Americans had lost to different opponents the previous day and were widely expected to suffer a similar fate.

However, they went one up after Curtis birdied the second hole and a tight match was epitomised at the par-three eighth where both teams recorded twos.

"The biggest fun we had all week came when we were on the eighth hole," Curtis recalled. "Garcia made a 50-footer and then Stricker and I were just a foot apart and he knocked it in (from 20 feet) on top of them.

"Just the excitement that was built up from that hole was amazing. It carried over into our games and we ended up getting a half out of it, which a lot of people didn't expect."

Although Curtis had never previously experienced the loud roars, passion and excitement generated by Ryder Cup crowds, his shining moment on a golf course will forever be his remarkable British Open victory at Royal St George's.

A 300-1 outsider who had played just two rounds of links course golf before the start of the 2003 Open, Curtis produced one of the biggest surprises in major history in claiming the title by a shot from Dane Thomas Bjorn and Fiji's Vijay Singh.

It was Curtis' first appearance in a major.

"I will always take that out as number one, no matter what happens for the rest of my career," Curtis said. "It's such a unique experience to play golf in that style.

"Links golf, we only get to play that style once a year and it's truly amazing to be able to have that win as an accomplishment. I will never forget that."

January 5, 2009

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