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Bunker mentality: Furyk's strong play out of sand helps win Tour Championship, $10M FedEx Cup

When Jim Furyk's final tee shot fluttered into the bunker alongside the 18th green, the umbrella-toting crowd let out a collective groan.

Not to worry.

He had that $10 million right where he wanted it — in the sand.

Capping off four brilliant days of bunker play, Furyk nearly holed out with his sand wedge at the final hole, then tapped in a 2½-foot putt that clinched a one-stroke win in the Tour Championship and golf's biggest payoff Sunday.

"That was probably the best bunker week of my career," Furyk said, searching for the stat sheet. "I don't know what it was on up-and-downs, but I bet I was probably 80 percent or more."

Eighty percent?

Jim, you're too modest.

Nine times he was in a bunker. Nine times he saved par.

"That's pretty good," Furyk said, revealing a sly grin. "Let's just say I had a lot of confidence."

And a lot of emotion when that gimme putt dropped into the cup.

Normally one of the PGA Tour's more stoic players, Furyk reached down for his ball and let loose with a wild arm swing like he was intent on throwing it into the stands at 100 mph (thankfully, he didn't). Then he pumped both fists and let loose with a scream that was loud enough for all to hear — especially since there weren't too many fans left on a rain-soaked day at East Lake.

"People go, 'God, it looks like he's not even having fun out there,'" Furyk acknowledged. "Trust me, I'm having a blast."

There was no doubt about it Sunday.

"At that point, you can let your guard down," he said. "You can do whatever you want to."

Even with two late bogeys, Furyk closed with an even-par 70 for an 8-under 272 total, holding off Luke Donald for the Tour Championship trophy and an even bigger prize, the FedEx Cup. If it had gone to a playoff, Donald could've won both awards and the monstrous payday that goes with claiming the season-ending playoff.

Donald was watching from the scoring trailer when Furyk knocked his bunker shot right up next to the flag.

"Obviously I had a good chance," the Englishman said, "but Jim made a great up-and-down at the last and deserved the victory."

Furyk said his bunker shot wasn't all that difficult, especially the way he was hitting them out of the sand.

"Considering the situation, it was a tough bunker shot," he said. "But if you take the situation out, the sand is nice and firm, the ball is sitting up perfect and I had plenty of green to work with. You know, it wasn't an overly hard shot. But obviously being able to knock it up there a couple feet for the win and the tournament, it was special."

Even if the points system is a bit hard to understand — Matt Kuchar, the top seed coming into the tournament, said he never even bothered going through the scenarios that would've allowed him to win the cup even while finishing tied for 25th — the closing holes provided just the sort of drama the PGA Tour envisioned when it came up with the playoff.

Six players had a chance to claim the $10 million prize over the final hour at East Lake, from Kuchar to Nick Watney all the way down at No. 28. Kuchar's mediocre finish was still good enough to finish second in the playoff for a $3 million bonus.

Going back to the third round, Watney played a stretch of 20 holes at an astonishing 14 under, but a two-hour weather delay sapped his momentum.

Then Furyk pulled out to a three-stroke lead with only three holes to play, only to make bogeys at 16 and 17. That gave Donald a shot, especially when he holed out a chip for birdie at the tough 17th hole to pass Retief Goosen and get within a shot of the leader.

"I told my caddie, 'I need to chip this in and make a 2 on the last,'" Donald said. "Obviously, I did half of it."

He put his tee shot at 18 on the green, but missed a 30-footer for birdie.

That left it to Furyk, who was in a bunker so deep he could only see the top of the lip — "kind of a worm cam," he quipped. He hit a clean shot and watched it head for the flag. It landed inches from the cup and spun to a stop just past the flag.

Furyk hopped out of the bunker to get a better look and knew the FedEx Cup was his.

Once the formality of a putt was done, he had his name on a trophy with Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh and had three victories in a season for the first time in his career — not a bad case for PGA Tour player of the year.

Maybe that's why he got so fired up.

"It just hit me," Furyk said. "I was excited and dropped the putter and ... I don't know. I guess at that moment, you're not really responsible for what happens next."

He earned $1.35 million for the win, along with the $10 million bonus. Not bad, considering he was disqualified from the opener of the playoffs when he missed his pro-am time at The Barclays because the battery died in his cell phone, which he used for an alarm.

He was No. 11 in the standings going into the Tour Championship, and became the first player out of the top 10 to win the cup.

Furyk still ranks the U.S. Open as his biggest win, although this was a close second.

"It's only 4 years old," he said of the FedEx Cup. "But 40 years from now, there should be a lot of history in this trophy. And to have 'Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk' ... I'm very proud of that, because those two can flat play — two of the most dominant players of my era, for sure."