Sunday, March 21, 2010
Furyk beats Choi by one stroke
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Jim Furyk finally won after 32 months and 58 tournaments, and it became a footnote Sunday.
When he finally reached the 18th green after a wild detour through the trees at Innisbrook, two television networks broadcast the first interview with the Tiger Woods since revelations he had been cheating on his wife.
Furyk wasn't aware of this until after he won the Transitions Championship. One of Woods' closest friends on the PGA Tour, he walked into the interview room holding a three-page transcript of Woods' interviews with ESPN and the Golf Channel.
"You know what? Tomorrow, the paper is going to read that I won the golf tournament, and I don't really care if it's a three-page spread or a little blurb in the corner of the paper because the article is about him.
"I won the damn thing, and it really doesn't matter to me."
All he cared about was winning for the first time since the 2007 Canadian Open, his longest stretch without a victory since he first joined the PGA Tour. He almost cared too much.
Furyk closed with a 2-under 69 for a one-shot victory over K.J. Choi, and he made it way too hard on himself.
He missed the last three greens in regulation, making a remarkable par save from a bunker washed out by earlier rains, then hitting what he called a half-shank from the trees, a shot that nearly took out NBC Sports reporter Roger Maltbie.
"It all worked out in the end," Furyk said.
The road getting there was more of a roller coaster than Furyk wanted -- the birdie on No. 10 to build a three-shot lead, failing to make birdie on the par-5 11th, a 35-foot birdie on the 12th, a pair of three-putt bogeys on par 3s sandwiched around a knockdown 8-iron into 3 feet for birdie on the 14th.
"I have a habit of making it tough on myself," Furyk said. "Just nerves got me, to be honest with you."
Furyk finished at 13-under 271 and won for the 14th time in his career, moving to No. 6 in the world.
Choi, who started three shots out of the lead, was tied with Furyk through seven holes until a two-shot swing on the par-3 eighth. Choi never got any closer until the final hole. He closed with a 4-under 67, but his runner-up finish should be enough to move him to No. 47 in the world and give him a good chance to get into the Masters.
Choi raised both arms in a strongman pose when he heard about the world ranking, a good consolation prize provided he stays in the top 50 after Bay Hill next week.
"It's actually better than what I thought I would be at this point," Choi said. "So definitely I've exceeded my expectations. All I can say is I will try my best next week to maintain or better that position."
Bubba Watson, who has never won on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour, also gave Furyk a good run and was within two shots throughout the back nine during a final round that had nearly six hours of weather delays.
Watson played without a bogey until the par-3 15th, when he came up short of the green, chipped over the green and dropped a crucial shot. He made pars the rest of the way for a 68, finishing alone in third.
Nick Watney had a 67 and was fourth, while defending champion Retief Goosen was another shot back after a 71.
Furyk did capture the Chevron World Challenge in December at Sherwood against a world-class field of 18 players, which counted toward the world ranking. Even so, going so long without winning on the PGA Tour was starting to grate on him.
He finally has an answer.
As he walked into a ballroom for the trophy presentation and someone mentioned how long it had been since he won, Furyk was quick to correct him. It had not been more than 2½ years, rather 20 minutes since his tap-in for par, even as Woods was answering questions.
"I think it's good for him to get his face out there and have people see him," Furyk said. "They are going to make their judgments, but I think it allows him to kind of move on and get focused for the next thing."
The starting times Sunday were moved up avoid an afternoon forecast of thunderstorms, which arrived earlier than expected. After a delay of just over an hour, Furyk was on the first tee waiting for the fairway to clear when the siren sounded to suspend play, and the rumble of thunder soon followed.
When players returned to the course nearly four hours later, Furyk opened strong with two birdies in three holes, with his biggest challenge coming from Choi.
A two-time winner at Innisbrook, Choi had four birdies in six holes, including a 60-foot putt across the green at No. 3 and a 10-footer at No. 6 for a share of the lead. Furyk restored his cushion with a two-shot swing on the par-3 eighth by making a 25-foot birdie putt as Choi missed the green and failed to save par.
Watson was lurking all along, but Furyk didn't budge from his spot atop the leaderboard.
Watson finally cracked on the par-5 14th, when he chipped too strong and ran through the green, having to settle for par. On the next hole, Watson hit short of the 15th green, chipped over the back and took his lone bogey of the day.