PITTSFORD — Jim Furyk came across as a tad whiny during the 95th PGA Championship. After his first-round 65, he accused reporters of spoiling his mood by bringing up his past failures in majors. He seemed touchy about his age. He said his main goal was to have fun and enjoy the ride.
He has a point. It can’t be easy to be a former PGA Player of the Year, a U.S. Open winner and seven-time Ryder Cup team member, and be constantly reminded of all the times you couldn’t win the big one.
It is a little unkind. Furyk is a golfer for the common man, an affable sort with a hooked nose and an awkward, looping swing. The only coach he’s ever had was his father, a former assistant club pro. He’s 43 years old, and he can’t hit it as far as the young studs on the tour.
Furyk is a guy you can root for. But if you get behind him in a major, be prepared for a letdown.
Oak Hill set up well for Furyk’s game this week. He admitted as much. He led after firing a 65 during a rain-soaked first round. He took a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round against Jason Dufner. It was right there for the taking. But once again, he let a major get away.
Furyk shot a 1-over-par 71 on Sunday. It wasn’t awful. He didn’t melt down. But he didn’t summon any heroic memories of Arnie Palmer, or even Shaun Micheel in ’03 here. Jason Dufner shot a 2-under 68 and won by two shots.
He was a deserving winner, the best player in the field.
There’s no disgrace in that. But if Furyk was resentful about people bringing up his failures in majors, it won’t get any better after this one.
He didn’t fall apart, the way he did in last year’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. But it was another on a growing list of lost opportunities for the 2003 U.S. Open champ.
“You know, I think what I said last night was, I was going to go out and have fun today,” Furyk said. “I was going to enjoy the round and I knew I was just going to come out and play my heart out and let it all hang out. I did that.”
Well, it’s good to hear he had fun. It sounds like a rationalization, if you ask me. Tension is the enemy in this maddening game. There’s no greater pressure in sports than swinging a golf club with big stakes on the line.
Most of us feel it when we’re playing for $2 skins.
If it was as simple as telling yourself that you’re going to relax and have fun, there wouldn’t be so many ghastly collapses in golf. You can’t talk the pressure away. The record shows that Furyk hasn’t handled it well.
This was the 20th time Furyk has finished in the top 10 of a major. That’s an amazing feat. You have to be an extraordinary competitor to do that.
Making a major run at age 43 is pretty rare. But he has one major title to show for it. That puts him in some fairly dubious company.
Furyk is a modern-day Tom Kite. Kite was one of the best ball strikers who ever lived. He was the all-time money leader for a time. Kite finished in the top 10 of 27 majors. He won once. You old-timers might prefer a Tom Weiskopf parallel. Weiskopf had 21 top 10s and one major title.
All right, so he’s not Lee Westwood or Sergio Garcia, the two best players never to win a major. For all his near-misses, Furyk has the aura of a man who has made the most of his physical ability. His fans call him “The Grinder” or “The Businessman.”
But fair is fair. If I’m going to dog Tiger Woods for going five years without a major, or dismiss Phil Mickelson as a choker earlier in his career, I have to knock Furyk for not taking care of business more often in majors.
This wasn’t as bad as last year’s U.S. Open meltdown. Furyk was leading when he snap-hooked his drive on the 16th hole in 2012. He hit into a bunker and bogeyed the 18th, and didn’t make a birdie in the final round.
“I felt like I lost that tournament,” Furyk said. “I felt like it was my tournament to win, and I wasn’t able to do it.”
At the 2006 Open at Winged Foot, he missed a short putt on 18 that could have gotten him into a playoff. He bogeyed the 17th on Sunday a year later at Oakmont to fall out of the lead.
Furyk has now finished in the top five of 11 majors that he didn’t win.
Furyk felt he played well Sunday. But he turned in the sort of uninspiring final round that has become characteristic of him in majors. He hit only one of his first seven fairways. He admitted later that he had some issues with his swing on the first nine.
He and Dufner were tied after seven. Then Dufner had a tap-in birdie at the eighth and Furyk a bogey at nine. That put Furyk two shots behind. He never got any closer. They traded pars for six straight holes. Then Dufner birdied the 16th, nearly holing out his approach. Furyk made a 15-foot birdie putt to stay within two. That was it for a charge.
Dufner bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes, monstrously long par-4s that are the hardest on the East Course. The door was open. Furyk tripped over the threshold onto his face. He left a chip short from left of the 17th green and bogeyed. He hit his approach short on 18 and bogeyed.
“If I could go back, I would love to make par on 17 and 18 and put some heat on him,” Furyk said. “I wasn’t able to do that. That’s the one thing, a little bit of a thorn in my side, but he played well.”
Those are tough finishing holes. But Shaun Micheel birdied 18 to win the PGA here in ’03. Curtis Strange parred his way to victory in the 1989 U.S. Open. Two pars shouldn’t have been a monumental task for one of the best players of his generation.
But for all his protestations about his age, Furyk has been slipping lately. He missed the cut at the U.S. and British Opens this year. He tied for 25th at the Masters. He recently had a stretch of 18 majors with just one top 10 – the U.S. Open he blew at Olympic a year ago.
As Mickelson showed at the British, you can still win majors at 43. But history says you start running out of chances as you move on in age. Ask Tiger Woods about it.
Furyk will be 44 next May. In the last 80 years, only six men have won a major after turning 44. He can rage against time and talk about having fun, but deep down, he has to wonder if he’ll ever get this close again.