Homegrown golfer takes time to rest up before Masters trip
by: HARRY HOW, Last year at about this time, Ben Crane got a congratulatory lift from his caddie at Augusta, Ga., in his Masters debut. Despite a back injury, Crane banks on playing the event again next week.

When the world's premier golfers tee it up at the world's premier event April 5 at Augusta, Ga., Ben Crane intends to be there.

The former Beaverton High and University of Oregon standout hasn't played a tournament since late February because of a lower back injury, but he is prepared to play through a little pain if necessary.

'I don't care what happens, I'll be playing in the Masters,' says Crane, 31, who lives in Dallas. 'I don't care if I have to take shots, pills, whatever - that's one tournament I'm definitely not going to miss.'

Crane has a Masters exemption via being among the top 50 in the world golf rankings. In 2005, he won the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, had five other top-10 finishes and earned nearly $2.5 million - a career-best and 19th on the tour.

Last year, limited some by back problems, he had three top-10 finishes and was 58th on the list with nearly $1.5 million in earnings.

The back problem has magnified this year. Crane missed the cut in his first two events, then beat Davis Love III in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Ariz., before losing to David Toms and collecting $90,000. He hasn't played since.

'It's frustrating,' says Crane, the 2005 recipient of the Harry Glickman Award as the state of Oregon's top professional athlete. 'I've played six rounds this year. Most guys have played eight or nine tournaments.

'I've had back issues in the past; they seem to be coming up a little more frequently now. I've been struggling with it, trying to get some answers, trying to figure out what's causing the pain.'

An MRI showed a 'minor bulging disc,' Crane says, 'but (doctors) don't think that's what's causing most of the pain.'

Crane says he has met with specialists in many fields.

'Doctors, surgeons, chiropractors, therapists,' he says. 'The guy I'm working with now is an active-release therapist. He digs into the muscle and goes through range of motion and lengthens the tissues. He's been able to loosen me up and make (the back) feel good, but it's not sticking.'

Course looks good from here

A year ago, Crane made his Masters debut, shooting 74-75 and missing the 36-hole cut by one stroke.

'The leader, Chad Campbell, made a putt on the last hole to knock me out (via a 10-stroke rule),' Crane says. 'I bogeyed No. 18 on Friday and made a couple of Masters rookie mistakes.

'On certain holes at Augusta, even though you have a 9-iron in your hand, you can't go at the pin. You can two-putt from 90 feet if you're below the hole, but if you're putting downhill from even 8 feet, you're dead. I wasn't paying close enough attention and hit it above the hole a few times, and it cost me dearly.'

But Crane enjoyed his experience, and the Augusta layout.

'The course suits my game,' Crane says. 'You have to putt well, be able to turn the ball on some of the tees, hit some draws. I like the setup. It's different than any tournament we play all year.

'Last year, I won the par-3 contest, which was fun, but that's what you're not supposed to do. I told my caddie, 'We're not worried about that. We just got some Masters crystal for my (trophy) room.' Now I want to get the other one.'

The silver lining in Crane's dark cloud in recent weeks has been time spent with 3 1/2-month-old Cassidy, his first child with wife Heather.

Baby brightens hard time

'That's been the greatest blessing,' Crane says. 'We've never had such a good time. Every day has been unbelievable. One part of me is driving myself crazy trying to get healthy. But when I come home, it's awfully nice to be able to hang out with little Cassidy. That part has been great.'

Last Wednesday, Crane hit balls - about 30 - for the first time in nearly a month. On Thursday, he hit 30 more and played five holes.

'I'm slowly working back into it,' he says. 'I'm hoping to play the Shell Houston Open (beginning Thursday) as a Masters warm-up. The goal is to be healthy enough to play at Houston and cruise into the Masters totally healthy.'

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