Jim Furyk is onetough cookie. On Sunday he was tough enough to rebound from consecutive bogeyson the back nine at mighty Oakmont by making three straight birdies to givehimself a chance to win the U.S. Open. He was tough enough to make no excusesfor the bogey on the next-to-last hole, the drivable but devilish par-4 17th,when he was tied for the lead. He was tough enough to lose the Open by a shotfor the second straight year and deal with it. ¬∂ But the guy has feelings. WhenFuryk and Tiger Woods, who tied for second, accepted their medals at the awardsceremony on the 18th green,
Furyk was thefirst to step to the microphone. He congratulated the winner, Angel Cabrera,for what Furyk called a "fabulous" closing 69. Then he gathered himselffor a moment and said, "I want to thank everyone from Pennsylvania."His voice quivered on the last word. He paused, then barely got out the rest ofhis message. "Coming back to my home state and seeing all the support madeit a great week for me. Thank you." His fans responded with one last longovation.
By the time theceremony ended and Furyk had made his way back to the clubhouse, an orange sunhad slipped beyond the hazy edges of the evening sky, ending a steamy day.Furyk's eyes were red and his lips were pursed as he stared blankly straightahead. Perhaps what had just happened--another Open championship slippingthrough his fingers, even though he had shot two rounds of even-par 70 on theweekend--was beginning to sink in. Without his hat, his mostly bald head madehim look every bit his 37 years.
WesternPennsylvanians know that Furyk is one of them. His dad, Mike, was once a clubpro in the Pittsburgh area. Though Jim grew up near Lancaster in the easternportion of the state, he is a huge Steelers fan. In these parts that counts forplenty, so on Sunday the loudest roars and the biggest buzz were reserved forhim. No sooner had he bogeyed the 11th and 12th holes to apparently fall out ofcontention than he hit a seven-iron shot close at 13 and made a big putt forbirdie. He birdied again at 14 and again at 15.
The final roundwas filled with disasters. Overnight leader Aaron Baddeley triple-bogeyed theopening hole. Stephen Ames, who had climbed into a tie for the top spot,tripled the 7th and doubled the 9th. Steve Stricker, who had come out ofnowhere to take the lead, slipped out of sight with back-to-back doubles tokick off the back nine. Even Woods doubled the 3rd hole, thanks to anuncharacteristic display of poor chipping.
Other thanCabrera, the only player making anything positive happen was Furyk, and whenthe big Argentine bogeyed the 17th hole with a sand wedge from the middle ofthe fairway, Furyk stood on the 17th tee tied for the lead. Cabrera, who hadthree-putted the 16th, was faltering, and Furyk was charging. Then came thesequence that in Furyk's mind will always define the 107th U.S.¬†Open.
The 17th is only313 yards long, but the green is heavily guarded by bunkers in front and back,and by deep rough to the left. There are no leader boards nearby, so when Furykstepped to the tee he didn't know he was tied. He decided to go for the greenwith driver, just as he had the day before. With the pin in the back of thegreen, laying up was no bargain--as Cabrera had just discovered.
It was the rightdecision. Furyk has made a career out of making good decisions. There was justone problem: The air was a dozen degrees warmer than it had been on Saturday,and there was much more humidity. Plus, Furyk had a six-pack of adrenalineflowing through his veins. His drive went long and left, into the deepest,thickest rough. He tried to flop his ball onto the green but left it short,still in the rough. His next pitch went high into the air and stopped eightfeet past the hole. When he missed the par putt, he had essentially lost theU.S.¬†Open.
"I was kind ofsurprised he hit driver, as good a wedge player as he is," said Stricker,who was paired with Furyk. "But then again, I laid up and ended up makingdouble bogey. You don't know what to do on that hole. There's trouble any wayyou look at it."
Furyk had noregrets about pulling driver--short and left of the green was the perfect angleto attack the pin. "It was the right play," he said. "I was shockedto see how far it went. I hit that ball approaching 300 yards. Guys like medon't do that. I was jacked up, I guess. But 17 will always chafe me."
Two other holesalso bit him. He went for the green on the 2nd hole, a 341-yard par-4, and madebogey. He hit two good shots at the monster par-5 12th, but after an unluckybounce into a bunker, he needed four more from 50 yards away and ended up withbogey there too. "I played three holes aggressively, hit good shots andcame away with bogeys," said Furyk. "That's what the U.S. Open does toyou."
If he had amulligan, though, Furyk said he'd have used it for his second shot at 17."I should've been able to dig it out and make a 4," he said. "Itcost me."
The 2003 Openchampion has come close to a second title for two years in a row. Asked whichone was tougher to take, Furyk replied without smiling. "They bothsting."
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"I was kind of surprised he hit driver, as good awedge player as he is," Stricker said of Furyk's decision at 17. "Butthen again, I LAID UP AND ENDED UP MAKING DOUBLE BOGEY."
Photographs by John Biever
Furyk, who got into the hunt by closing with a pair of 70s, thanked his fans(below).
AL TIELEMANS (BELOW)
Photographs by John Biever
WIDE RIGHT After his bid on 18 to tie missed (top), Furyk joined Woods in keeping it light at the awards ceremony.
SIMON BRUTY (BOTTOM)