Clutch close, friendly conversation keys in Furyk's history-making round

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September 13, 2013
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The tension was mounting on the teebox at the par-5 eighth hole at Conway Farms. Play was backed up late in Friday's second round of the BMW Championship, forcing the trio of Jim Furyk, Gary Woodland and Jason Dufner to cool their heels.

The timing couldn't have been worse.

Having started his round four hours earlier off the 10th tee, Furyk was now two holes away from golf immortality. If he could make just one more birdie, he would join the exclusive club of PGA TOUR pros to shoot 59.

Golf's magical number was in his grasp. But instead of chasing it and staying in the kind of zone that had gotten him to this point, Furyk now had to wait, now had to think about it, now had to contemplate the enormity of the situation.

"We hadn't waited all day," Furyk said. "It kind of broke up the rhythm."

Like teammates when a pitcher chases a no-hitter, neither of Furyk's playing competitors wanted any part of engaging him in conversation for fear of jinxing the moment. "I was trying to stay away from him," Woodland said.

But Furyk wanted to talk, wanted to do anything other than think about 59. So he went up to Woodland and started chatting. About pro football.

Woodland had the right response. He offered some good-natured ribbing for last week's season-opening loss by Furyk's beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. Furyk laughed. The moment had been lightened, the pressure had been lifted. In fact, they kept the chatter going in between shots for the rest of the round.

Furyk didn't birdie the eighth, but that still left him the par-4 ninth, which was playing at 386 yards. As he had done most of the day, Furyk started with a perfect drive, then launched a beautiful gap wedge from 103 yards that rolled 3 feet, 3 inches from the hole.

The gallery erupted. Furyk looked up -- and suddenly it hit him, how many people had come out to watch him make golf history, stacking 10 deep behind the ropes and filling the grandstands. Not only fans, but even some of his fellow pros. Tiger Woods was finishing on the 18th hole at the same time, but on this day, Furyk was the headliner, the main attraction.

He had given himself this opportunity with a spectacular first nine holes, making the turn in a career-best-tying 28 that included six birdies and an eagle-two when he holed out with a 9-iron from 115 yards. His caddie, Mike "Fluff" Cowan, called the shot "pretty freaking special."

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As he headed to his back nine, Furyk did the math. He only needed to play his last nine holes in 4 under to shoot 12 under -- 59 on a par-71 course like Conway Farms. Shooting 4 under on nine holes is something he's done 100 times in his TOUR career. "Probably even more," he said.

He didn't waste much time. A par at the first hole was followed by consecutive birdies at the second, third and fourth -- the latter after a brilliant 4-iron to 5-1/2 feet. Now he was 11 under and needed just one more birdie with five to play.

"I thought to myself, ‘There's something happening here,’ " Cowan said.

But then a blip, a bogey at the fifth when Furyk three-putted. Now the task had become harder. History was against him -- none of the previous five players to shoot 59 have ever suffered a bogey.

At the par-3 sixth, a hole about as far away from the clubhouse as you can find at Conway Farms, he faced a 23-footer for birdie.

Dufner had a slightly longer putt on a similar line and dropped his in. Furyk, waiting off to the side, stepped toward the hole to get a good look at the break. But he couldn't capitalize, leaving his own birdie bid nearly 3 feet short.

"The nerves kicked in a little bit," Furyk admitted.

He wasn't discouraged, though. He knew the last three holes each offered good opportunities for birdies. He capitalized on the first chance, rolling in an 11-footer for birdie at the par-4 seventh. News of his 59 chase spread through the course.

Zach Johnson had just finished his round when informed that Furyk still had 59 in his grasp despite the bogey. He could only shake his head in amazement. "That," Johnson said, "is ridiculous."

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The 600-yard eighth was playing downwind, but Furyk hit his second shot thin and the ball landed in the rough just below the hole. He failed to get up and down for birdie. At that point, it might have seemed like his best opportunity had been lost. But that perfect drive on the last hole kept history alive.

On the nearby 18th hole, Brandt Snedeker -- who was finishing up his 3-under 68 that would leave him in a tie with Furyk for the tournament lead -- saw on the video board that Furyk was a birdie away from 59. "What the heck," Snedeker thought. "Are you serious? There's no way."

Yes, Brandt, there was a way.

Furyk wasn't the only one in his group to hit his approach in close on the final hole. Woodland got to 5 feet. Dufner to inside 2-1/2 feet. Furyk led the walk up the final hole, the applause warming him on a coldish day on the North Shore.

As he sized up the putt, a fan broke the silence. "I'll give it to you," he shouted. Furyk broke out in a smile, raised his hand in acknowledgement. But he didn't need a gimme.

Woodland made his birdie putt. Dufner then went next, even though his ball was inside Furyk's ball. Dufner had approached Furyk about putting first, and Furyk said that was fine, no wanting Dufner to have to deal with the chaos and noise that often follows the making of history. Dufner rolled in his putt.

Now the moment had come. Furyk -- at age 43, a major winner, FedExCup winner, dedicated member of so many American teams in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup -- was 3 feet away from becoming the sixth player to shoot 59.

Silence, then elation.

After the putt dropped, lots of hugs and handshakes followed. When Furyk got to Woodland, the long-hitting youngster offered his congratulations.

Furyk, in return, offered his appreciation.

"Thanks," he said, "for talking football with me."

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