Column: Short memory and some long putts vault Furyk up leaderboard at PGA
PITTSFORD, N.Y. – If golf really is a game of misses, Jim Furyk was having one of those days where he didn't miss much.
Despite making his only bogey of the opening round at the last hole, he'd just wrung a 65 from notoriously tough Oak Hill. Furyk deftly navigated his way around an even dozen questions in the interview room afterward.
Then came No. 13.
It was about failure in general, Furyk's meltdown at last year's U.S. Open in particular, and whether golfers ever shake off memories of the most painful ones. Never mind that he'd just vaulted to the top of the leaderboard at the PGA Championship.
"I'm on a nice little high, but y'all are trying to bring me down," Furyk began. "Damn. No wonder you guys are on that side (of the room). You have bad thoughts too often."
Yet once the nervous laughter ended, Furyk dutifully listed the major disappointments off the top of his head, in the same matter-of-fact way pro golfers can recount every shot of every round they've ever played.
"The '98 Masters; I bogeyed 15, hit it in the water and lost by two. '98 Birkdale ... U.S. Open at Winged Foot (2006), the U.S. Open at Oakmont (2007), the U.S. Open at Olympic (2012).
"There's always," he said, wincing at the memories, "there were opportunities there."
Furyk's short list included only majors, one of which he won: the 2003 U.S. Open. If he'd expanded it to include losses in PGA Tour events, and Ryder and Presidents Cup matches, he could have gone on for another half-hour.
"Yeah, it's disappointing," Furyk summed up, "but this sport beats you up. If I played 25 events a year and I win one event a year for my entire career, you would be a hell of a player."
Furyk is that — he's won 16 times on the PGA Tour and another handful of tournaments overseas. Those accomplishments, along with the 2010 Player of the Year award, have him at the door to the Hall of Fame, and a second major would probably carry him across the threshold.
But Furyk is also 43 and a short hitter holding on in an era of long drivers, still relying on a loopy, self-taught swing against rivals with picture-book moves and more coaches — covering every facet of their game — than some NFL staffs.
No one needs to remind him the window of opportunity is closing. Less than one hour after Furyk duck-hooked a tee shot at No. 16 and let last year's U.S. Open slip from his grasp, he reacted angrily to what was essentially the same question he was asked at the end of Thursday's session here — namely, whether he would be able to put the disappointment behind him.
"Two years ago I was the player of the year. I played poorly last year, and all of a sudden I'm middle-aged. I got to be honest with you with you, that pisses me off," he said. "So, yeah, I think I have a few more good years."
But his record in the five majors since says otherwise: tied for 34th at the British Open and 42nd at the PGA in 2012; T25 at the Masters and missed cuts at the U.S. and British Opens this year. Those memories, in part, explained Furyk's wry assessment of his fast start at Oak Hill, particularly since he was putting better than he had in a while.
"Felt great today. Doesn't mean it's going to feel great tomorrow or whatever. But I feel like I'm moving in the right direction," he said, a nod to consecutive Top-10 finishes in his last two tournaments. "I've always had a lot of confidence and my short game has always been a strength."
Furyk hardly needed reminding, either, of how razor-thin a margin he carved out with a hot putter. To cope with the brawny 7,163-yard, par-70 layout, he had to hit driver off seven tees. Tiger Woods, far from the longest hitter in the game anymore, used his only once; Phil Mickelson opted to leave the big stick out of his bag this week altogether.
Furyk conceded that without putting well, it was getting tougher to handle the pressure it put on the rest of the game. But for one day at least, the bad memories were behind him and the pressures of holding onto the lead were still 24 hours away.
"Did you have any idea that 64 was the course record here?" someone asked.
Judging by his answer, that might have been the one miss all day Furyk minded least.
"No," he said, brightening. "No idea."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.