ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — Three weeks after they were on stage together for the closing ceremony at the Ryder Cup, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk wound up together in a place few people would have imagined — in the final pairing at the McGladrey Classic, both wanting a win for different reasons.
Love made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Saturday for a 4-under 66, giving him a share of the lead with Furyk, who also had a 66 by doing most of his work early. He made a 45-foot birdie putt over a slight ridge on the second hole, added three more birdies through six holes, and settled for eight pars at the end.
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.
Love, the 48-year-old tournament host and a Sea Island resident since he was 14, has gone four years without winning. Ryder Cup captains typically are at the end of their careers; the last American to win after being a captain was Tom Watson in 1996.
“It’s nice to be 100 percent focused on my golf,” Love said.
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 spoke openly this week about how even a win at the McGladrey Classic couldn’t erase a lot of sour memories this year, particularly his failure to close out wins at the U.S. Open and the Bridgestone Invitational, along with a 1-up lead over Sergio Garcia with two holes to play at the Ryder Cup.
He came to Sea Island out of respect to Love, a longtime friend, and showed up with moderate expectations. Playing relaxed throughout the week, Furyk has gone 38 holes without making a bogey and seems to be a little sharper each day.
“My expectations weren’t overly high, but my game was in good shape, and every day I’ve improved a little bit and gained a little more confidence,” he said. “And I think I’m going to go in with the same attitude tomorrow, just try to play a good round of golf.”
In his final official event of the year, it’s one last chance for Furyk to finish the season with a title. Or considering how his year has gone — this is the fourth time he has had at least a share of the lead going into the final round — it’s another chance to fail.
Furyk doesn’t see it that way.
“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.”