Big shot crowned a deserving champ

It was hard to tell who was more relieved when Jim Furyk made a clutch par out of the sand with $11.35 million on the line Sunday at the Tour Championship.

Was it Furyk, who at 40 is the favorite to win Player of the Year a year after being written off as yesterday's man, or PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem?

The various FedEx Cup permutations on a wet, miserable Sunday afternoon at East Lake stretched from the unlikely to the wild to, frankly, the embarrassing.

Imagine how ludicrous the FedEx Cup would've seemed had Furyk won the season-ending event, making him the only three-time champion on tour this year, and collected the $1.35 million winner's check -- but lost the $10 million grand prize to Paul Casey, who hasn't won at all.

If Casey, who tied for fourth, had just finished second, he'd have claimed the richest prize in golf.

"I had no clue," Casey said. "Ignorance is bliss, I guess."

Clearly, he wasn't watching NBC's own little version of "The Situation Room," with the Golf Channel's Steve Sands trying to explain the various potential outcomes.

It got so convoluted, they needed Pythagoras. I was waiting for Wolf Blitzer to walk into the picture and start drawing in Blue States on the board, except, of course, that wasn't going to happen because this is the PGA Tour, and without David Duval and Paul Goydos in the field, there are only Red States.

For a while, when Nick Watney was in the midst of a scorching run -- he went 14 under par through 20 holes from the middle of his third round -- all the focus was on Steve Stricker, even though Stricker was shooting 75 and trying to get out of the rain.

"Matt Kuchar needs a bogey out of Steve Stricker," deserves to go down as one of the most bizarre calls in the history of golf broadcasting.

Kuchar, who led the FedEx Cup coming into his home course but laid a considerable egg, was tied with Stricker for 25th in the 30-man field. Had Stricker bogeyed his final hole, lifting Kuchar to 25th on his own, a Watney victory would've meant a playoff with Kuchar for the FedEx Cup.

Stricker safely two-putted, but Kuchar had left the course anyway to go home, see his kids and watch some football.

"I don't live too far away, so I can make it back for whatever they need me to make it back for," he said.

In the end, fortunately, the FedEx Cup got a worthy champion.

Furyk is the ultimate grinder and now has collected 16 Tour wins -- a major amongst them -- from a homemade swing that had college coaches looking away in disgust when he was coming out of high school.

His swing, which many have (unsuccessfully) tried to change, may not be pretty, but it's effective. And there's no questioning the man's character; he has the heart of a lion.

"That's what Jim Furyk is, Mr Unflappable," Casey said.

"Great temperament, wonderful ball striker. There is no surprise to any of the guys playing in this tournament that Jim has hung around on the top of the leaderboard and hasn't given anything to anybody."

But the conditions became so appalling at East Lake that even Furyk was leaking oil for a while.

"The rain threw me for a loop," he said. "I was a little disappointed I had to mud it out."

He had a three-shot lead with three holes to play but then bogeyed the 16th and 17th, and when Luke Donald made the most implausible of birdies on 17, pitching in from 100 feet, Furyk's lead was down to one.

Donald made par on exacting par-3 18th, which hadn't yielded a birdie all day, and waited in the scorer's hut as Furyk came to the tee, needing a par for victory. He pushed his hybrid from 235 yards into the right greenside bunker, but from 60 feet showed why he's considered one of the best sand players in the world.

Rather than blasting the ball out and hoping it would run to the hole, Furyk took the more dangerous route and played the shot with a much higher degree of difficulty. He expertly hit a high, spinning shot, getting the ball to stop 26 inches beyond the hole.

The usually stoic Furyk put his cap on backwards as the rain came down, stroked the putt in and then celebrated with a howl and a fist pump.

"I'm usually not at a loss for words," he said about the emotions that overcame him at the presentation ceremony.

He had endured two seasons of questions about why he wasn't winning any more.

"Three wins is very, very special to me," he said. "I was very disappointed in '08 and '09 not to win. To go out and turn that around and get three W's this year is pretty special, and to top it off here..."

To boot, Furyk won using a putter he'd bought at Joe & Leigh's, a discount golf store outside of Boston a few weeks ago, for the princely sum of $39.

"I guess we were meant to be, who knows," he said.

He was talking about the putter but might as well have been talking about the trophies he held.