Furyk hoping to spark season again at Tampa Bay Championship

March 13, 2013
Jeff Shain,

By all numerical accounts, Jim Furyk made a nice recovery last year from the slump he endured right after winning the 2010 FedExCup.

There’s one category in golf that stands above all, though. Along those lines, Furyk found 2012 no less maddening.

“In all the important things -- finishing off tournaments and winning -- it was a frustrating year,” said Furyk, for whom the Tampa Bay Championship has become something of a barometer to his season. 

A year ago, Furyk was among those vanquished by Luke Donald in a four-man playoff on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort. It was an encouraging result, considering the struggles he had in 2011.

But it also established a recurring theme for his year, also coming up empty-handed despite taking a lead into the final holes at the U.S. Open and World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. More frustration came at the Ryder Cup, where two losses in his 1-3 record came on Medinah’s 18th hole.

Nor did Furyk’s self-analysis after the season make him feel any better.

“Everything that went wrong, it was all due to making poor decisions rather than poor swings,” Furyk said. “That in the long run makes me more mad, because I really like to consider myself as someone that’s very prepared and ready for those opportunities.”

When swing flaws crept into his game two years ago, the 2003 U.S. Open champ spent a “very driven” offseason working it out on the range. But where does one go when mental errors were at the root of his tribulation?

In Furyk’s case, away.

“Spent more time with the family. Watched more football on TV,” Furyk said of his 3 ½-month layoff. “I vowed to go fishing more with my dad, but we didn’t get a chance to do it as much as I would have liked. I just tried to get away and have a clear head and come into this season fresh.”

The results have been mixed so far. Furyk didn’t start his season until the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but he posted a solid tie for 13th the following week at the Northern Trust Open. But he was 35th in last week’s limited field at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, never breaking 70 on a TPC Blue Monster layout where he won in 2000 and was a playoff runner-up a few years later.

“It’s not exactly where I want it,” said Furyk, whose 2010 triumph at Innisbrook ended a winless drought of nearly three years. “I’m hitting a lot of really good golf shots, but still missing some that are just too poor.”

Donald, too, could use a little bit of a spark after his second-round exit at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and a tie for 43rd at Trump Doral in which his sharp iron game had him atop the field in hitting it close to the hole. 

“I feel like I’m very close,” said the English pro, whose best finish in three U.S. starts this year has been a tie for 16th at Riviera. “The things that I’m usually very proficient and good at just weren’t quite sharp enough last week.”

Innisbrook also is a gathering place for some of golf’s fast-rising young guns. 

Jordan Spieth, who left the University of Texas over the winter, and former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein claimed berths with top-10 finishes last week in Puerto Rico. Patrick Cantlay, a Web.com Tour winner two weeks ago, is playing on a sponsor exemption.

Spieth tied for second last week, one shot behind winner Scott Brown. Combined with a tie for 22nd at Pebble Beach, he’s now just $101,295 shy of earning special temporary membership by matching last year’s No. 125 in earnings. With it, Spieth can accept unlimited sponsor exemptions, an incredible luxury with the FedExCup Playoffs looming only a few months away. 

“[Things have] changed in a positive way,” said Spieth, whose schedule mostly had been geared toward earning status on the Web.com Tour. “Now it’s more focusing on the PGA TOUR, so that’s a good problem.”