BEMIDJI - Curt Howard has been playing the Birchmont as long as anyone and he has had his share of successes and failures.
Among the lessons he has learned is that consistency is an ally and during Thursday's Senior Championship quarterfinals he put that knowledge to good use.
Howard, of Sapupla, Okla., was able to open a 1-up lead through 17 holes by stringing together 17 straight pars. His lone birdie of the day came when he needed it the most as it matched the birdie on No. 18 carded by John McEnroe of Woodbury. McEnroe, who was the Senior Championship medalist, drained a 12-footer on the final hole for his birdie. Prior to that putt Howard figured he had won the match as he needed only to tap in an 18-incher for his biride.
"When John made that putt for birdie my 18-incher all of a sudden turned into a 20-footer," Howard said. "But I still made it."
Thursday's victory vaulted Howard into today's semifinals and a date with Brian Patterson of Scandia who trailed only McEnroe in the medalist chase. Patterson slipped past Craig Bihrle of Bismarck 1 up Thursday in his quarterfinal.
Today's upper bracket pairing matches Matt Anderson of Zumbrota against Doug Hiney of Grand Forks. Anderson nipped defending champion Bruce Nord of Grand Forks 1 up Thursday while Hiney needed 19 holes to eliminate Jeff Hendrickson of Thief River Falls.
The Senior Championship contenders will begin today's action at 12:27 p.m.
Howard seems poised to add a Senior Championship to his Birchmont resume.
"Thursday was a fun day on the course," he said. "Everything I tried was working. I could hit the cut, I could hit the knock-down, I could hit the fade, I could hit anything. And that doesn't happen very often."
McEnroe opened a 2 up lead at the turn but Howard drew even with hole-winning pars on No. 10 and No. 11. Another par on No. 14 gave him a 1 up cushion and the combatants each parred the next three holes to set up the drama on No. 18.
"I was looking for position so I hit a 3-wood off the tee," Howard said of his game plan on No. 18. "On my approach I hit a 7-iron to 18 inches while John put his approach to 12 feet. I thought I was sitting pretty well but when John made his putt mine got a bit longer.
"From tee to green this was one of the best matches I have played here and, as it turns out, I needed every shot to win it."