Jim Furyk comes up short ... again
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The man had already suffered enough, don't you think? Jim Furyk was left doubled over at last year's Ryder Cup, his face an unruly mask of agony and despair in a season that crowned him golf's official king of pain.
What more did this impossibly cruel game want from him?
He blew the U.S. Open at Olympic in 2012, blew Firestone after that and then assumed the role of tragic figure (among many on the American side) in the Medinah meltdown, granting a man considered among Europe's least gracious winners, Sergio Garcia, his great escape.
Furyk planted his hands on his knees after his final missed putt, his spirit cut in half. So yeah, the game owed Furyk one, if not two or three. He was man enough to carry a one-stroke lead into the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday, which meant he was man enough to have his heart broken all over again.
Only this was supposed to be payback time for this 43-year-old Steelers fan, a grandson of Pennsylvania mill workers. Right after he nailed those big-boy putts on 17 and 18 on Saturday, Furyk told reporters, "You know, I'm not in the grave yet."[+] EnlargeSam Greenwood/Getty ImagesDespite a strong showing, Jim Furyk had to settle for second.
With a wink, he complained about his news conferences being "so damn negative" but swore he was done beating himself up over all those important, shiny trophies he butterfingered into the opposition's hands. Furyk the football fan said he'd embraced "a cornerback mentality," a willingness to get burned on the long ball before forgetting all about it on the next possession.
This was that next possession, his Oak Hill pairing with Jason Dufner, a foe without a major victory to match up with Furyk's 2003 U.S. Open title. The leaderboard wasn't particularly weak, but it wasn't particularly strong, either. In other words, there were no Tigers or Phils to overcome.
Furyk could surely manage this leaderboard and win the second major that would seal the deal on his Hall of Fame candidacy. He positively adored the Oak Hill course and he had the hot hand, playing three consecutive rounds in the 60s.
But Dufner had his own score to settle. He had blown a five-shot lead with four holes to play in the PGA Championship two years ago, falling in a playoff to Keegan Bradley, and his own 63 on Friday -- equaling the lowest number in major championship history -- suggested he appreciated the course as much as Furyk did.
His play Sunday confirmed the notion. Dufner covered the first 16 holes in 4 under, taking the lead on the eighth hole and never giving it back. Furyk made only one bogey over those 16 holes, at No. 9, and it would prove to be one bogey too many.
"He hit three iron shots within a foot of the hole where he had tap-ins for birdie," Furyk said of Dufner. "He played incredible. He played a great round of golf."
Furyk sank his own birdie chance at the 16th to keep his deficit at two and make it a ballgame. But as Dufner finally started arm-wrestling with his own demons, the ghosts and goblins of 2011, Furyk couldn't capitalize on that struggle.
As it turned out, he needed two pars to drag Dufner into a playoff he wanted no part of, but he instead ended up matching Dufner's only two bogeys of the round.
"I have no regrets. I played my heart out," Furyk said. "If I could go back, I would love to make par on 17 and 18 and put some heat on him, and I wasn't able to do that."
Furyk maintained he could live with that failure. His loss to Webb Simpson at Olympic, where he snap-hooked his drive at No. 16 into the trees just like Arnold Palmer had in collapsing at the 1966 Open? Now that was a much different story.
"I felt like I lost the tournament," Furyk said. "Today, I feel like I got beat."
When it was over, Furyk's caddie, Fluff Cowan, dragged hard on a cigarette outside the clubhouse as he waited for his man. Asked to evaluate how Furyk had played, Cowan huffed, "He played all right. Not good enough to win.
"We were up against a guy today who played a near-flawless round of golf. We hung around all day, and we might've done something if [Dufner] stumbled, but he never stumbled. He played great. We could've maybe scored a little better, but we didn't. So there you go."
Win, lose or draw, Furyk repeated over and over that he would force himself to enjoy this major in ways he couldn't earlier in his prime. He reminded himself of his childhood dreams, of standing over putts with friends "pretending we were Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. 'This is to win the PGA,' or, 'This is to win the Masters.' I got to go out there and live that today. So I had an absolute blast."
Dufner had more fun, of course, as much fun as any expressionless man can have. Furyk could've been that guy. He could've been the golfer wearing a championship belt for eight months before the next heavyweight fight at Augusta.
Instead Furyk confronts the same endless offseason waiting for his buddy Tiger Woods. Furyk's wife, Tabitha, acknowledged on the post-round walk to her car that "it would've been nice to have that PGA Championship under our belt," but spoke hopefully of the momentum her husband was building on his way into the FedEx Cup playoffs.
In the end, the only playoffs that truly matter in golf ended Sunday. "The best players," Jim Furyk said, "are judged by how many major championships they win."
Furyk hasn't won one in 10 years, 10 years that felt like 20 after what went down at Olympic and at the Ryder Cup. No, this 2013 PGA Championship defeat didn't have that devastating 2012 feel to it.
Still, it hurt all the same. "I guess it's days like this," Furyk said, "that will make the next one sweeter."
Maybe there will be a next one; maybe not. But as another guy walked away with another trophy Sunday, it was clear Jim Furyk wouldn't mind losing this one title:
King of pain.
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