When Davis Love III named his captain’s picks for next week’s Ryder Cup, eyebrows were raised at his choice of old war horse Jim Furyk.
Furyk, after all, was coming off a disappointing 2011, had blown the US Open with three holes to play, thrown up all over himself at the last hole of the Bridgestone Invitational when a bogey would’ve at least got him into a playoff and also lost in a playoff at Transitions.
At 42, he had the smell, to some, of yesterday’s man.
And given his Ryder Cup record of 8-15-4, there were those who saw the Furyk pick — over, say, Hunter Mahan — as nothing but old boys’ club sentimentality.
But Love was never leaving him off the team.
“I need Jim Furyk,” Love said. “Experience brings a lot to the team room.”
Furyk’s not just, as Tiger Woods called him on Friday, "a rock steady" teammate, but it turns out he can still play this game.
On Friday at East Lake, he started his second round at the Tour Championship with seven straight threes.
He had nine threes through 11 holes.
Three bogeys offset his nine birdies, but in the end Furyk was happy enough to sign for a 64, which gave him a one-shot lead over Justin Rose going into the weekend with the FedEX Cup and its $10 million on the line.
Meanwhile Woods, the first-round co-leader with Rose, sputtered throughout the day, with five bogeys, including four on the back nine. He had to scramble for par on the 18th for a 73, his worst score at East Lake in 14 years. He fell into a tie for 12th.
Rose made four birdies on the back nine and holed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th for a 68.
Rory McIlroy, the other fan- and media-magnet at this tourney, shot a second-round 68 and was four shots off the lead.
For all the attention Woods and McIlroy have garnered here, Furyk owned the spotlight Friday.
“It was obviously a fun day,” he said. “To be able to write three on your card nine times in the first 11 holes was a lot of fun.”
I asked Furyk if he felt in any way that he needed to justify Love’s faith in him this week.
“I was so hoping someone would ask me that,” he said. “Really, the opinions that matter to me are those of my captain and those of my teammates.
“As far as having to prove myself … look at the way I play golf: the way I swing the club and grip the putter. Look at the way I go about my business. I don’t hit the ball very far. I’m short.
“If I really cared what the critics thought the last 19 years, I really wouldn’t be here.
“As far as justifying myself, I’m going to play well, I’m going to play bad. Whatever it may be at the Ryder Cup, my teammates know that I’m going to give it 110 percent.
“They know I have a lot of heart. I have a lot of grit. But I’ve never felt I have to justify myself. I’ve got 19 years behind me and a pretty good track record.”
Woods reminded everyone that Furyk went 5-0 at last year’s Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
“Him being picked, it’s not that controversial to us, as players,” he said.
"Since ’97, he’s been on every team with Phil (Mickelson) and myself. He’s been so solid and so rock-steady. He’s a great team player and he’s playing well.”
Bubba Watson, who played alongside Furyk on Friday, also praised him as a “quarterback” of the US team.
“He brings leadership, focus, drive, determination,” said the Masters champion, who’ll be playing in his second Ryder Cup.
“This is going to be his eighth one; obviously he’s been around the block. That’s the quarterback of the team. When you get a guy over 40 playing on your team, those are like the quarterbacks of your team.”
Furyk, who’s from the part of Pennsylvania that’s produced some great quarterbacks, smiled at the idea.
“I don’t know if I’m an outspoken leader,” he said. “Maybe more of a quiet leader; and follow by example.”
Is that a Pittsburgh blue-collar thing, I asked him?
“It might be, actually,” he said. “I came from a very hard-working family and grandparents that instilled that in me early.”
But for all the admirable traits he brings to a team room, Furyk knows that playing well is what’s going to count most next week as the US tries to win for just the third time in seven tries.
“I know first and foremost (helping the team) is probably going to be with my clubs,” he said.
“Knocking some putts in and trying to win some matches.
“But I would like to be a calming influence (on younger players) and a guy that could help out.”