Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Golf [Print without images]

Saturday, September 14, 2013
Can Jim Furyk change recent history?

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The notion that shooting anything under par and feeling inadequate about it is difficult to comprehend, even for a professional golfer leading a tournament.

But there were times Saturday at Conway Farms that Jim Furyk had to seem like he was shooting 100. A day earlier, he hit every fairway, missed just one green, needed just 23 putts and became just the sixth player in history to shoot 59.

So 69 a day later -- while still 2 strokes under par -- was 10 shots higher. That's just not going to feel so good when everything seemed so easy the day before on the same course that played much more difficult en route to the 59.

 Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk scored 10 shots higher on Saturday (69) than on Friday (59), but he came away with a 1-shot lead after 54 holes at the BMW Championship.

"It kind of felt like a victory lap," Furyk said after the third round of the BMW Championship. "People kept cheering for me all the way around. It was a good day, a lot of positive fans, the occasional one that likes to give me a hard time, but 99.9 percent were very positive. It was fun.

"Even if you fire a 62 or a 63, it's always difficult to kind of follow that up with a low number, and it probably took me a few holes to really get in the flow out there and feel good. Made a couple mental errors, I felt, on the front nine with shots and hitting shots in the front places, short-sided myself a couple times.

"But felt like I played a very, very good nine holes of golf on the way in and was happy how I played on the back nine."

Despite a bogey at the par-5 18th, Furyk shot a back-nine 34 for his round of 2-under-par 69 and leads the BMW Championship by 1 stroke over Steve Stricker heading into the final round of the third FedEx Cup playoff event.

It was always going to be difficult to follow such a spectacular, history-making round -- the 59 that included 11 birdies and an eagle. Furyk became the sixth player to break 60 in a PGA Tour event, the first to do so with a bogey. And he did it on a course that played to a scoring average of 71.2, with the next-best score a 65.

"I had a lot more opportunities yesterday. I hit the ball better yesterday, Furyk said. "But you're not going to have many days like I played yesterday. It seems to be a mental battle more than physical."

And that leads to the next hurdle: winning.

Of the previous five players who shot 59, two -- Chip Beck and Paul Goydos -- did not go on to win the tournament. Bettering the field as he did Friday has proved not to be a huge advantage because Furyk had to overcome a first-round 72.

Putting aside the FedEx Cup playoffs -- Furyk is 15th in the standings with the top 30 advancing to the Tour Championship in Atlanta next week -- Furyk could badly use a victory.

It's been three years since he last won. Furyk, 43, capped a player of the year season in 2010 by capturing the Tour Championship. Since that time, there's been a lot of frustration with blown leads last year at the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a tough end to the Ryder Cup and not being able to hold off Jason Dufner last month at the PGA Championship.

Furyk has been stuck on 16 PGA Tour victories for a long time.

"There's always pressure to win, and I'm going to put pressure on myself because I expect to play well and I expect more of myself than anyone else," he said. "It's been three years. No one has to remind me of the Tour Championship in '10, and as I've had some of the close calls last year, I definitely put some more pressure on myself and that'll be part of the mental aspect of it, to go out there and stay in the moment and just play golf and not really worry about it.

"I'll play my best if I'm focused on the task at hand, not on the results."

Chasing Furyk will be Stricker, who never figured to be here, Brandt Snedeker, the defending FedEx Cup champion, Zach Johnson and Tiger Woods, who is 4 strokes back after a 66 gave him a chance at victory outside Chicago.

Stricker figured to be on vacation by now, having declared at the beginning of the year that he would play a limited schedule to spend more time at home. This is just his 13th tournament of 2013, yet he's eighth in the FedEx Cup and in position to win his 13th PGA Tour title.

"I really had no expectations," Stricker said. "I was just going to go about my business, play fewer events. Really didn't plan on playing much in the playoffs and then happened to finish second [at the Deutsche Bank two weeks ago], and then made me starting thinking, I've got a chance to win this thing.

"I thought I could continue to play well. Nothing was changing on that end of it. But to be in the position I'm in now, being in the top 10, being in contention here ... it's exciting to be a part of it."

There's plenty at stake Sunday, including the makeup of the field that will compete for a $10 million bonus next week, as well as those who will automatically qualify for the first three major championships in 2014.

But for Furyk, it's a bit more. He made history this week already. Yet it would be even better to add his name to the BMW Championship trophy.