ATLANTA – He had shown the day before how utterly brilliant the game can be played sometimes, his string of seven consecutive 3s a feat that got even his colleagues talking.
But in a sultry Saturday twilight, Jim Furyk also demonstrated how brutally unfair golf is at times, because with one bad golf swing, nearly three days of hard work was gone in a splash.
Relying on his favorite flight – a cut – at East Lake’s demanding par-4 17th, Furyk instead produced “a bad double-cross” and when his ball hooked into the water, he was en route to his only bogey of the day. Unfortunately, it was of the triple variety, and from a share of the lead at 8 under, Furyk fell into a share of fourth, now 5 under and three behind.
Just didn’t seem right. Guy runs off 15 pars and a birdie to maintain at least of a share of a lead he had acquired more than 24 hours earlier, and one mis-hit costs him dearly? Well, perhaps because he’s 42 and in his 19th season, or maybe because he has handled the highs and lows of this golf business with dignity, but Furyk wasn’t about to hang his head and let the triple bogey douse his spirits.
“I think I’ll handle (Sunday). I played well today,” Furyk said. “I played 17 good holes. I can linger on 17 all I want, but really, I’m three (strokes) back (and) I have a good opportunity tomorrow.”
This was not the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, where Furyk hooked a drive coming down the stretch and then bogeyed the final hole to open the door for Webb Simpson. It wasn’t the Bridgestone Invitational, where he double bogeyed the 72nd hole and got beat by Keegan Bradley’s brilliant up-and-down par save.
No, those were fourth-round failures, and they stung. This was a hiccup on the 52nd hole . . . a costly hiccup, true, but Furyk insists he takes far more positives than negatives into the fourth round of the Tour Championship. To whit, he has yet to make a bogey on the front nine, scoring to the tune of 10 under, and when he analyzes what went wrong at 17, it was simple. He just never felt comfortable.
“Water up the left,” he said. “I like to cut the ball to start with, but also a hard left-to-right wind. I’ve got to start one up the left side (over the water) . . . you’re rarely going to see me aim up the right rough and try to hook it.”
So, there. Even the world’s best players sometimes hit turbulence and come unglued. It happens, and no surprise that East Lake produces plenty of it, given how this stout test of golf is so difficult a stage on which to generate a lot of momentum.
Want proof? Consider Luke Donald, who used to carry the moniker of the world’s best player. For 12 holes he had played decently, but appeared to be getting nothing out of it, and then he birdied the par-4 13th and holed an 8-iron from about 165 yards to eagle the par-4 14th.
Since he was paired with Tiger Woods, Donald joked that “more than about 50 (people) were watching,” yet he just had to be licking his chops. Next up was the easiest scoring hole on the course, the par-5 15th, only Donald hit his second shot into a greenside bunker, blasted to 6 feet, and missed.
“It’s been a little bit like that this week,” Donald said, “and in the playoffs. That would have been (big) to keep going.”
Alongside Donald, Woods could commiserate. Though he turned in a solid 3-under 67 to get to 4 under and within four of the lead, he made his few mishaps at times when he appeared ready to put the pedal to the metal. After turning in 34, for instance, Woods stuff his tee shot to 7 feet at the 197-yard, par-3 11th. And missed.
He then converted a 13-footer for birdie at the 12th and when he pured a tee shot 311 yards and left himself just 163 into the par-4 13th, the crowd sensed some drama. Only Woods’ approach came up short and found a greenside bunker.
Swinging the momentum back to the positive side, Woods followed a poor drive at the par-5 15th with a scintillating fairway bunker shot, a 244-yard rocket that looked as if it had GPS. Two putts and his third birdie in seven holes pushed him to 4 under.
One swing later, the momentum hit a wall – Woods’ drive was miles right.
True, he survived that adventure, though he has to be considered fortunate. His low, hard bullet that he fired into a small gap between trees caught one of the obstacles and truly could have bounded anywhere, including dead right and into thick bushes. That it caromed left, nestled into the fairway, and enabled him to get it up-and-down from 145 yards was gratifying to Woods, but it doesn’t take away from the suspicion that East Lake doesn’t lend itself to runaways.
Indeed, while Furyk’s troubles at the 17th left Brandt Snedeker and Justin Rose sharing the top spot at 8 under, eight players are within four and given that most players are confident that nobody will burn up this demanding track, many think they have a chance.
Just two years ago, he saved par from a greenside bunker at the par-3 18th, edged Donald by a stroke, and earned not only the Tour Championship, but the FedEx Cup title. Couple that with the memory of Friday’s second round – seven 3s in a row to start 7 under for 10 holes – and you understand why he has plenty of reasons not to dwell on that one bad swing at 17.