TELANDER: Jim Furyk lets another final-round lead get away
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist September 16, 2013 7:37PM
LAKE FOREST, IL - SEPTEMBER 16: Jim Furyk walks off the 18th green during the Final Round of the BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club on September 16, 2013 in Lake Forest, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
Updated: October 18, 2013 6:21AM
It would have been nice. Jim Furyk is a nice guy.
But golf ain’t nice.
So there was Furyk, the leader going into the final round Monday of the rain-delayed BMW Championship at Conway Farms, approaching the 18th green. He had started the day at
13 under par, had reached 15 under and was back to 13 under. The problem was, Zach Johnson was in the clubhouse after shooting a 6-under 65 and taking the lead with a 16-under 268.
Furyk took several practice swings with his iron. The swings looked good. Trouble was, he already had hit his approach to the par-5 final hole, and it had landed — according to the huge stat board just off the green — 38 feet, 3 inches from the cup.
In other words, it was bad. The post-shot practice swings were what Furyk did instead of hurling his iron into the trees, like many of us might have done.
But he’s a gentleman, and, sadly, he had been in this spot before. Indeed, in six tournaments in the last two years in which Furyk has been the leader or co-leader after 54 holes, he has finished no higher than third.
He carded a par-5 on the 18th, tipped his cap to the cheering, sympathetic crowd and walked off with another third-place finish, three shots behind Johnson and one behind Nick Watney (14-under 270).
‘‘I guess if it hadn’t been for Zach, I would have still had a really good opportunity to win the golf tournament,’’ Furyk said.
He didn’t putt well in the final round — that 38-footer sure wasn’t going in, for instance — and he lamented that.
‘‘I don’t know if I used them all up on Friday or what,’’ he said.
Oh, yeah, Friday. That was when Furyk shot an incredible 12-under 59 in gusty winds on this relatively short, precise course. Shoot a 59, and you’re usually going to win any tournament anywhere, right?
But Johnson — who wasn’t the best golfer on his high school team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; wasn’t wanted by the University of Iowa; and played his college golf at mighty Drake University, where he wasn’t the best golfer, either — just kept slipping ahead on this final day.
It was nice to see because Johnson, too, is a decent chap. But poor Furyk. We won’t exactly feel pity for him, considering he has won $54 million in his pro career. But Furyk now is to closing as a frog is to beauty. That’s not the epitaph you want.
‘‘It felt fantastic,’’ an emotional Johnson said just after his last putt. ‘‘I may not be from this state or from Chicago, but I feel local. I heard a lot of ‘Go, Iowa,’ ‘Go, Drake,’ ‘Go, St. Regis,’ my high school.’’
Of course, he also felt buddy Furyk’s heartbreak.
‘‘He’s one of my friends,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘I mean, you can’t help but feel for him.’’
In fact, Johnson has modeled his career after Furyk, who won the U.S. Open in 2003 and was named the PGA Tour player of the year in 2010. It’s not that they swing alike, but Johnson admires the way Furyk manages a golf course and lives his life.
‘‘He doesn’t overpower golf courses,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘He’s one of the steadiest players. As a result, his résumé is as deep as it is.’’
But it’s more than that.
‘‘He’s as good as they come,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘He’s a model professional.’’
Johnson stood with his impenetrable wraparound sunglasses covering his eyes. He was speaking to the TV media when Furyk finished and at first didn’t see Furyk approach him through the crowd. Furyk waved, tipped his cap and nodded in deference to the victor. Johnson saw Furyk and thanked him, right during his TV interview.
Soon, the Golf Channel guys and the others were done, and Johnson bent over at the waist, his hands on his knees. He stayed that way for some time, then stood up and removed his sunglasses. He had been crying, and
it took him a good spell to wipe the tears away.
You get a lot of emotions in this game. Who should know that better than Johnson, who turned pro in 1998 and played in obscurity for five years on the Prairie Golf Tour, the Buy.com Tour, the Nationwide Tour and the Hooters Tour?
Maybe Furyk, whose 59 is a bittersweet reminder of greatness and, yes, of what might have been.