2006: Happy returns: Furyk

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Charlotte, N.C.

A few months ago, Jim Furyk was standing outside the clubhouse at Kapalua two days before the Mercedes Championships, primed for a new season but not quite ready to leave the old one behind.

Spending the holidays in Hawaii with the family was nice, and 2006 started with a fat new endorsement deal with Srixon. But Furyk still couldn’t help but think what could have been. Many forget that he could have enjoyed a monster season had he been able to convert on so many close calls.

“It could have been a really, really big year,” Furyk said. “Some people were asking me if I felt like last year (2005) was better than ’03. I still won twice and won a major (U.S. Open) in ’03, winning over $5 million. Last year was really good and very consistent (10 top 10s, $4.2 million), but I still measure them in wins.”

He won once last season, and was a runner-up four times. One of the ones he had left on the table was the Wachovia Championship at Quail Hollow.

This time around, when Furyk got his opening at Wachovia May 7, he seized it. Once again he found himself in a playoff, this time against talented young South African Trevor Immelman. Furyk’s winning 6-foot par putt was only halfway to the cup when he raised his right arm, turned and slammed his fist to punctuate his victory – and at the same time, bury a few demons.

There was that four-hole playoff he lost at Quail Hollow last year. In his last tournament three weeks earlier at Hilton Head, he had watched 10-foot putts graze the lip on his last two holes to finish one shot behind Aaron Baddeley. And in a trend he can only chalk up as a fluke, it had been 10 years since Furyk last won a playoff on the PGA Tour. Heading into Sunday, his playoff record was 1-6.

“It’s nice to come out and get it done this time,” Furyk said.

Furyk had to work hard for his 11th career victory, making an 8-foot par putt on the 18th hole in regulation to close with a 1-under 71 and force a playoff on a cold, rainy afternoon. But while the veteran of so many U.S. Ryder and Presidents Cup teams was as gritty as ever, he needed some help.

Immelman only had to two-putt for par from 50 feet on the 18th green in regulation, but ran his first attempt 10 feet by the cup and pulled his return putt. Returning to No. 18 for the playoff, Immelman fanned his drive into the right rough, had to lay up well short of the green, then spun his third shot from 82 yards off the front of the green. The best he could do was make bogey.

“When you come that close, you’re disappointed to not finish the job,” said Immelman, who had a two-shot lead with five holes to play and shot 70. “It’s my best finish on the PGA Tour, and I’ve got to build on that.”

Furyk had two good looks at birdie in the playoff last year and missed them both. He couldn’t afford to miss anything down the stretch this year, and he didn’t.

No putt was bigger than the 8-footer on the final hole of regulation, one that left him stumped. He studied it from both sides, and as he crouched behind the ball, caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan was chattering away, convincing Furyk it was relatively straight.

“I did a good job hitting that putt right where he said, and he made a great read,” said Furyk, who finished at 12-under 276 and earned $1.134 million.

Immelman was solid despite heavy rain in the middle of the round. He built a two-shot lead with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole and kept his cushion as Furyk closed in. The South African twice made clutch par saves on the 16th and 17th to keep the lead, and hit the middle of the fairway and the middle of the green on the 72nd hole.

That’s where it all came undone.

Retief Goosen had third place all to himself before he rinsed three balls in the left-side creek at the finishing hole, making a quintuple-bogey 9 and sliding all the way to a tie for 10th.

He was left to think about what might have been.

Furyk knows the feeling.

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