Furyk's game is on the rise but will it be enough to defend his title?

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August 23, 2011
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor

EDISON, N.J. -- In 2007, the first year of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, Jim Furyk arrived at The Barclays third in points.

In 2008, he was 14th.

In 2009, he was 16th.

And last year, he was third -- and eventually won the whole thing five weeks later with a brilliant sand save on the 72nd hole in rainy conditions at East Lake.

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This year? Furyk ranks -- gulp -- 60th in points. He's guaranteed of advancing to next week's 100-man Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, but there's no comfort zone beyond that. If he wants a chance to defend his title at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, he'll need to step on the gas.

"Obviously I'm in a different situation this year," Furyk said Tuesday after playing the front nine in a practice round at Plainfield Country Club. "Before I was kind of maintaining my position and trying to move up and get ready for the re-seed at the TOUR Championship.

"This year, you know, it's going to be a fight and going to have to play well and try to get myself to East Lake."

It's been a struggle for Furyk to play well this season.

Not only has he failed to win this year, he has just three top-10 finishes. That's his lowest total in a full season since 1996. One of those top-10s came in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, which has a limited field.

And the amount of time between his second top-10 (at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard) and his third top-10 (last week at the Wyndham Championship) was his longest drought in 16 years.

Furyk finds a positive
A year ago, Jim Furyk was ruled ineligible to play in The Barclays because he missed his pro-am tee time due to a malfunctioning alarm clock. Since then, the rule was changed to allow for less-severe penalties.

Furyk was glad to see the change.

"If one thing was positive about it, we changed the rule," Furyk said. "... We need to do our job in the pro-ams, but I think there was a better fix for the rule."

For the 41-year-old Furyk, usually one of the more consistent performers on the PGA TOUR, this year has been a frustrating one -- especially since he was coming off his most productive year, with three wins, along with the FedExCup and the Player of the Year awards.

"You've heard me say it probably a dozen times -- I'm not happy with the way I'm driving the ball and I'm not happy with the way I'm putting," Furyk said. "Tough to score when two of your three most important clubs are out."

Furyk joined the TOUR full-time in 1994 and during his heyday, his driving accuracy usually hovered around 75 percent annually, ranking him as one of the best in that category each year. But this year, his driving accuracy is at a career-low 66.67 percent. Since his game relies on accuracy off the tee, he's putting himself in trouble too many times.

His woes on the putting surface have been just as puzzling. He ranks 152nd in Strokes Gained-Putting, the TOUR's primary putting statistic that was introduced earlier this year. Two years ago, had the statistic been used, he would've ranked eighth. Last year, he would've ranked 26th.

Desperately seeking a cure, he switched to a belly putter during an off-week after he finished tied for 34th at the RBC Canadian Open. Furyk had spent most of that week in Canada with players using either a belly putter or a long putter and "I was the worst putter in my group every damn day."

One of Furyk's playing partners in the first two rounds was Keegan Bradley, who a few weeks later would go on to win the PGA Championship, becoming the first player to win a major with a long putter. Bradley is thin and tall like Furyk, and the youngster provided a couple of tips that Furyk said were useful.

Since then? Furyk has played three events with the long putter and has played some of his best golf of the year. He finished tied for 29th at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, shooting in the 60s in the last three rounds. At the PGA Championship, he shot a second-round 65 that left him tied for third going before he stumbled on the weekend, finishing tied for 39th.

And then he played four solid rounds in the 60s at Wyndham to finish tied for ninth, moving him up 10 spots in the FedExCup standings.

Although he's dabbled a few times over the years with the long putter, he's still getting comfortable with the length and weight of the putter and what his ball position needs to be. The early signs have been positive, but whether it's the long-term answer, who knows.

The key thing is that, at least for now, he's playing better.

"I feel like my game is on the positive," Furyk said. "It's on the upswing, but I have to keep that momentum going forward."

If he doesn't? Then it could be an early Playoffs exit for the defending FedExCup champ.

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