Rain is par for Avenel course again


POTOMAC -- The Booz Allen Classic, a golf tournament that is supposed to end after this year, hasn't. Ben Curtis, a player who has waited three years for a chance to win his second PGA Tour event, will have to be a little more patient.

Storms that stopped play Sunday and later poured nearly 5 inches of rain onto the already-saturated and now-waterlogged Tournament Players Club at Avenel - unofficially renamed the River Course - continued yesterday.

The start of play was pushed back more than two hours in the morning and there were two more delays before officials finally called it a day at 5:11 p.m. after an additional 3 inches of rain and with at least two hours of storms to come.

Play will resume at 7:30 a.m., weather permitting, of course, with Curtis having completed all but two holes and holding a seven-stroke lead over four players. It marks the first time a PGA Tour event will be finished on a Tuesday since the 1980 Tucson Open.

It marks a bizarre ending to a tournament that has had its share of bad weather, bad fields and overall bad karma. Booz Allen Hamilton officials announced last month that the company wouldn't renew after its three-year contract ran out this year.

It marks the first opportunity for Curtis to win a tournament since the 2003 British Open, when he was a relatively unknown 26-year-old rookie.

"It's unreal. You wait three years. I guess I can wait another day," said Curtis, 29, who came into Avenel ranked 142nd on the money list and hasn't had a top 10 finish this year. "It's fine with me."

Curtis acknowledged that it would be a little easier to sleep last night knowing he only had to putt out on the par-3 17th hole - a 28-footer for par - and play the par-4 18th to seal the victory, worth $900,000 and an incalculable amount of confidence.

"It's going to be sweet, that's for sure," said Curtis, who has led the tournament from the start, after shooting a near-record 9-under-par 62. "I've worked hard; it's been a long couple of years; it's been frustrating. But I kept my mind in it and I kept focused. It feels good."

Curtis came into yesterday having played the first 65 holes in 23-under and holding an eight-stroke lead. He had hit his last shot on Sunday into a creek to the right of the 12th green. He hit one shot yesterday - chipping onto the fringe after taking a drop - before play was called again. He would end up making double-bogey, breaking a streak of 34 straight holes of par or better.

It had been six minutes between the horn to start play and the horn to stop it, as another storm moved through the area. This one halted play for 63 minutes. Alternating between steamy sunshine and threatening clouds, the rain and dangerous weather came again. Play was stopped 80 minutes later, and after nearly four hours, it was called for the day.

All but six players have finished. Once half the field completed its final round, there was no turning back. According to PGA Tour rules, as long as half the players participating in the last two rounds finish 72 holes, the rest of the tournament also must be played out to its conclusion whether it takes a day, a week or even a few months.

That happened in 1998, when the final round of the AT&T; Pebble Beach Pro-Am, an event often marred by bad weather in February, had to be finished in August. Tiger Woods caused a flap when he decided not to return, and was forced to withdraw. In the case of the Booz Allen, this marks the third prolonged ending in the past six years.

Unlike the previous two, which ended on Monday in 2001 and 2003, this will go an extra two days. While Billy Andrade and Padraig Harrington of Ireland have finished at 15-under, Nick O'Hern of Australia and former champion Steve Stricker will come back today to try to see if they can go lower than 15-under.

Asked about the weather and the delays, Harrington said: "It's a fact of life out here. It happens. Obviously there was a little worry that we wouldn't get the end of this round finished. After having a good start, it made a big difference to me, especially when I was in sole second place. If they had pulled the round, it would have been very disappointing."

It would have even been worse for Andrade, who jumped from a tie for 19th going into the round to a tie for second, a difference of $247,000 if he remains there.

"It's hard for everyone," said Andrade, who won the tournament here in 1991 and shares the scoring record at 21-under with Jeff Sluman, whom he beat in a playoff that year, as well as Adam Scott of Australia in 2004. "Hats off to the tour staff who have done an unbelievable job."

With fallen tree limbs on the 10th hole, streams on greens and in the middle of sand traps and small ponds on the fairway - including one right in front of the 18th green - some parts of Avenel looked as if the $20 million renovation announced recently by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had already begun.

Mark Russell, who has been an on-site tour official for the past 26 years, said he was confident based on the forecast that the tournament will end today.

"We're going to play 20 minutes of golf sometime," he said.

Note -- Unlike yesterday, when spectators were allowed in for free, only players, officials, tournament staff and media will be permitted on the grounds today.don.markus@baltsun.com

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