Furyk shines with runner-up finish at THE PLAYERS
March 17, 2019
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
- March 17, 2019
Jim Furyk eagles No. 2 at THE PLAYERS
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - It was wild enough that a pair of impossible haymakers from improbable contenders Sunday at the Island Green 17th – Eddie Pepperell’s 50-foot birdie roll followed in the next group by Jhonattan Vegas’ 70-footer – put a bit of a shock into what was seen as the long-awaited coronation of Rory McIlroy as THE PLAYERS Champion. But when this blast from the past came riding in on a cool spring breeze, a classy veteran so grizzled that he joked that “my first name has become ‘48-year-old’ and my middle name is ‘Jim,’ ” well, Jim Furyk nearly left everyone speechless.
Let the record show that the dynamic McIlroy birdied the 15th and 16th holes Sunday, then played 17 and 18 brilliantly to nail down his 15th PGA TOUR victory, but this was an occasion when a runner-up performance deserved significant attention and heaps of praise. “I don’t feel any less pride for the way I played because I didn’t win,” said Furyk, who wasn’t even qualified for his 23rd PLAYERS Championship untill he placed inside the top 10 at the Honda Classic a few weeks ago.
“I have a lot of respect for (McIlroy) as a person. But it still stings (to finish second). I mean, I’m a competitor, and I want to win, and it pisses me off I didn’t.”
Such an afterthought entering the tournament and even after opening with a 71 to sit six off the lead, Furyk ignited a little bit of attention with a second-round 64, then added more intrigue when he shot 71 Saturday to enter the fourth round in a tie for sixth, five off the lead.
Against a heavyweight leaderboard of McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood and Jason Day, Furyk probably did not generate much support from those picking a winner, but he had that fire in his belly that had been missing for a long time.
“I played a great event at Honda (T-9) and was just excited. I knew how well I was playing . . . but it was nice to get in contention to get under the heat, to have to hit shots under a lot of pressure. It will be a confidence boost going forward.”
Biggest gut-check? The stretch of holes between Nos. 5 and 8, “where I lost my tempo and lost my confidence and hit horrific shots,” he said. Somehow, he survived – a chip-in birdie at the fifth, then clutch par-saves at six, seven and eight. When a solid par at nine sent him to the 10th tee, “I told Fluff (caddie Mike Cowan) that I’ve got to build my confidence,” and Furyk suggested “3-under on the back in these conditions (cool and blustery)” would get him into the thick of things.
When you’re in your 26th PGA TOUR season and have played nearly 600 tournaments, you’ve got “credentials,” as they say, and Furyk showed he knew what he was talking about. He birdied the par-4 10th and par-5 11th, was one of four players tied for the lead at 14-under mid-way through his back, and when he shook off a sloppy bogey at the par-4 15th with birdies at 16 and 18, “48-year-old Jim Furyk” was your clubhouse leader at 15-under.
Daughter Caleigh had returned from a volleyball tournament in Orlando in time to watch her dad play 17 and 18, then she joined her mother, Tabitha, and brother, Tanner, to huddle with Jim after he signed for 67 – 273. They laughed near the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse, then he disappeared into the sprawling building where he watched his lead melt away in McIlroy’s finishing kick.
It might not have been easy viewing for Furyk, but this had been a four-day stretch that showcased the enormous amount of guts which defines him. He is not only nearing another birthday (he will be officially called “49-year-old Jim Furyk” May 12) and playing against kids half his age who hit it twice as far as he does, but Furyk admittedly has never felt comfortable at this brilliant Pete Dye design.
No matter that he has lived just minutes away for more than 20 years, “there are hard edges, hard lines here and (for years) I couldn’t figure it out,” said Furyk. In 22 previous starts, he had finished Top 10 just four times, but more telling is that arguably the most consistent player of his generation not called Tiger Woods, Furyk had missed the cut five times and finished outside the top 30 on six occasions.
But this week, riding new-found confidence in the aftermath of the Honda and a determination to be more aggressive at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course, Furyk shined.
Maybe not as brightly as McIlroy, but surely in a way that he hasn’t in years, not with his world ranking having fallen to 167th and his health a big challenge.
But thrilled to be healthy for the first time since 2015, Furyk came into the year determined “to see how competitive I could be.” Finishing just one behind a dynamo named McIlroy in the PGA TOUR flagship tournament that features the best field in golf answered that in a very positive fashion.