Jim Furyk was ready to close the book on a year filled with bitter moments. He wasn’t expecting one more chapter.
Despite playing limited golf in the three weeks following yet another disappointment in the Ryder Cup, Furyk put together three solid days in the McGladrey Classic and ran off four early birdies Saturday that gave him a 4-under 66 and a share of the lead with Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III.
Love has played every week since the Ryder Cup, and the 48-year-old tournament host was at his best on a gorgeous afternoon at Sea Island. With birdies on both the par 5s and a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, he matched Furyk with a 66 and joined him in the lead at 13-under 197.
This is the last official event of the year for Furyk, who had said earlier in the week that even a win at the McGladrey Classic would not erase memories of his failure to hold leads at the U.S. Open in June, the Bridgestone Invitational in August, and a 1-up lead over Sergio Garcia with two holes to play in the Ryder Cup.
I’m tougher on myself – I promise – than anyone else is,” Furyk said. ”So I’ve kicked myself 100 times already. And I’ve gotten over it. I can put it behind me and move. There’s nothing I can do to change it. And nothing I do in the future is going to change it. … I’m excited for this season to be over, only for the fact that I can turn the page and we can start talking about the future.”
Suddenly, there’s one more day left in his season.
Furyk only came up to Sea Island out of respect to Love, a longtime friend. His expectations were moderate at best. Turns out his game is still pretty sharp.
He rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt over a ridge on the second hole and made three more birdies in the opening six holes, finishing with a hard 7-iron to a tucked pin that settled 10 feet away on the par-3 sixth.
Furyk failed to birdie the par 5s, and he had to settle for eight straight pars at the end that allowed more players into contention for the final round.
Love started slowly, badly misjudging a putt from short of the green that ran some 10 feet by the cup on the fourth hole. He answered with an 18-foot birdie putt, and kept chipping away until catching Furyk on the final hole.
They were at 13-under 197, two shots clear of Arjun Atwal (69) and D.J. Trahan (66), two players who could avoid a return to Q-school with a big week at Sea Island.
Ryder Cup captains typically are chosen toward the end of their careers, and Love last won a tournament four years ago at Disney. He dealt with a neck injury at the start of the year, and split duties when he was healthy promoting the Ryder Cup. The last American to win after being Ryder Cup captain was Tom Watson in 1996.
On the opening day at Medinah, Love had 45 minutes to turn in Saturday’s Ryder Cup pairings, and 30 minutes to decide whether to play in Las Vegas the following week. He met both deadlines, and has been playing every week since Europe rallied to win the cup.
”I can separate a lot of things, separate the Ryder Cup with its own experience,” Love said. ”People were surprised I played the three weeks after, but I’d had some time off. I was ready to play. I haven’t played enough tournaments, so it’s nice to be back in the swing of things.”
This is the second time this year that Love had a share of the 54-hole lead. He was tied in Memphis and finished two shots behind.
Furyk, like most golfers, has spent a career coping with failure. He figures that to win one tournament a year for 25 years was a sure ticket to greatness, yet that also would mean losing some two dozen times a year.
That’s why he doesn’t see Sunday as another chance to fail – especially after a year like this – but another chance to win. It might have helped that his expectations were not as high as they usually are. He has been relaxed all week, and sees no reason to change that for the final round.
”If I looked at tomorrow as another chance to be judged in case I failed … you know, it’s been a tough year, but I could never look at it that way,” Furyk said. ”It’s an opportunity for me to go out and win a golf tournament, and I’m not trying to make up for the rest of the year. What happened, happened. It’s over with. I can’t change it. I’m never going to feel good about what happened, but it’s done with.
”It’s opportunity tomorrow to win a golf tournament. That’s the way I’m going to look at it.”
The opportunity is not theirs alone.
Remember, a year ago Ben Crane rallied from five shots behind Sunday to win in a playoff over Webb Simpson, and 18 players were separated by five shots going into the final round, where the weather again is expected to be mild and sunny.
That group includes Bud Cauley, who was three shots behind after a 68. Crane, who worried about making the cut when he walked off the course Friday, wound up making it on the number and then tied the course record with a 62 to get into the group four shots behind, along with Charles Howell III. Vijay Singh, Chad Campbell and David Toms were in the group at 8-under 202.
The McGladrey Classic features only two of the top 25 players in the world ranking – Zach Johnson (16) and Furyk (23) – yet it could not have offered a more compelling leaderboard with the two guys at the top – Love and Furyk, a captain and one of his picks, two guys who have combined for 36 wins and two majors.
So who could use the win more between those two?
Love mentioned how much it would soothe the sting for Furyk’s tough year, ”but I’d love to keep him from it.”
”We’re both very competitive,” Love said. ”That’s why I picked him for the Ryder Cup team. He competes hard every time he goes out there and he gives you everything he’s got. I think it would mean a lot to both of us. It would be a pretty close tie.”