CROMWELL, Conn. — For the record, it was a curling 23-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th, then pars at 17 and 18 that cemented Jim Furyk’s record-setting round of 58 in Sunday’s final round of the Travelers Championship.
Truth is, however, that it was the birdie, double-bogey, bogey stretch over those same holes Thursday that might have made possible the lowest score in PGA Tour history and allowed Furyk to become the first player to record two sub-60 rounds.
That’s because the 2-over 37 on those first nine holes Thursday was followed by a 36 on the front nine. At 3-over 73 Furyk shared 128th place. But steaming mad, he wanted the practice range all to himself.
That meant that even caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan was told to go home. Diligent and devoted as he is, Cowan heard Furyk, but figured he’d still go to the range. This went on for a few minutes, Furyk more committed by the minute, and, well, you don’t have to tell Cowan five or six times, which is why “I just put the bag down and got the hell out of here.”
Said Furyk: “I was in an awful mood. If someone came with me, I’d just bitch to them. I tend to calm down if no one is there.”
That Furyk followed with a bogey-free 66 to make the cut on the number (1-under 139) was no surprise to Cowan. That he shook off a lackluster third-round 72 with Sunday’s magic was also not a shock.
“There’s no give-up in him. Never has been, never will be,” Cowan said.
The veteran caddie was still absorbing the brilliance of the morning at TPC River Highlands, the 10 birdies and an eagle adding up to the first-ever 58 in PGA Tour history. But Cowan had never doubted that his boss had a purpose to this final round, that there was always something to play for, and in this case, it was Furyk’s first-ever chase to make the playoffs.
“I’ve never played for points,” Furyk said, a tribute to how consistent he’s been that he’s always been a given since the playoffs debuted in 2007. “But in the back of my mind…”
At 46, he knew that his standing wasn’t very good coming into the week (118th), but he did assume that he would have fallen even deeper had he missed the cut and he likely would have dropped to 121st or 122nd had he remained where he was through Saturday, which was 70th.
“He came here today wanting to get some sort of good out of the week,” Cowan said.
Here’s a guess that near-perfect qualifies as “good,” because from a tranquil setting (Furyk was off at 8:41 a.m. in the third group) at the beginning, Cowan settled in to witness something very special. It was Furyk as Cowan has seen in many spurts, only this went wire-to-wire, a clinic in ball-striking.
“He didn’t miss a fairway (technically, one came to rest a foot into the first cut so he was 13-for-14) and he didn’t miss a green,” Cowan said.
There was a 16-foot birdie at the par-4 second. Ho hum. Then, Furyk holed a 9-iron from 135 yards at the par-4 third, a shot that was witnessed by “probably five to ten people,” he laughed. The 5-foot birdie at the fourth had him at 4 under, but it was the onslaught at the sixth (3 feet), seventh (2 feet), eighth (16 feet) and ninth (2 feet) that triggered everyone’s attention.
“You shoot 27 on the front, that’s special unto itself,” Cowan said. But the birdies at 10 (15 feet), 11 (16 feet) and 12 (5 feet) were downright surreal and Furyk wasn’t about to deny what was going through his head.
He knew at 11 under par he “was in the 50s” and not that he had a cavalier “been there, done that” attitude, but, well, it’s true. In Round 2 of the 2013 BMW Championship, Furyk became the sixth player to record a 59 in PGA Tour history. Why not give a shot at “the next barrier,” and so Furyk told himself that if he played the next six holes under par, he’d make history.
“Having that (2013 BMW) experience in the past was comforting for me.”
At two of the easier scoring holes, Furyk failed to make a birdie.
He had just 251 yards into the green at the par-5 13th but was in a divot and didn’t think 3-wood was the play. He laid up and from 90 yards hit “an awful wedge, probably his worst shot of the day,” Cowan said.
Two holes later, Furyk drove it just shy of the green and hit a deft pitch ’n run to 8 feet. But that birdie try rode around every piece of the cup before staying out.
The 171-yard par-3 16th plays eighth-hardest, a tee shot that has to carry water all the way and Furyk knew he couldn’t get too cute. But so, too, did he know that 17 was third-toughest and 18 isn’t a breeze. So, what the heck, he took aim at the flag, hit it to 23 feet and curled in what would prove to be an historic birdie.
For the last time on this sun-splashed day, Miguel Angel Carballo of Argentina would say, “nice birdie,” but for a long time he will relish the first round of competitive golf he’s ever played with Furyk.
“The crowd was so loud and we were there with the crowd, cheering for him,” said Carballo, who shot the most overlooked 67 in history.
Paul Casey was on his way to the range to warm up, but he had to detour and get to the scoring area to shake Furyk’s hand. “What can you say. So impressive,” Casey said. The Englishman said he monitored the progress of Furyk’s round on television in the clubhouse, where Padraig Harrington was riveted.
“Padraig said he’d rather shoot 58 than win a tournament,” Casey said. “Easy for him to say, he’s won (25 times) world-wide. But I know what he’s saying. It’s history.”
The first 59 was recorded 39 summers ago and the man who did it, Al Geiberger, was, is, and always will be “Mr. 59,” Furyk said. No matter that five other players have since shot it — Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos, Stuart Appleby and Furyk — “Geiberger was the first,” said Furyk.
Honored to have received a text message from Mr. 59 when he had that round at Conway Farms three years ago, Furyk smiled when asked if would answer to Mr. 58.
Indeed, he would.
The only one on the PGA Tour scene who can.