Commentary

Jim Furyk sparks U.S. to victory

Updated: November 20, 2011, 1:33 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- There was the controversy concerning Tiger Woods as a captain's pick, his spat with former caddie Steve Williams and the overplayed drama of taking on Adam Scott.

There was the iconic golf course, Royal Melbourne, and the hometown advantage seemingly brought to the venue by five Australian players.

There were bombers Bubba and DJ, and veterans Lefty and Stricker, and a bunch of storylines on both sides at the ninth staging of the Presidents Cup.

But did any of them include Jim Furyk?

He was the forgotten man heading to Australia, the veteran who barely played his way onto the U.S. team.

And yet while Woods got the clinching win in the United States' 19-15 Presidents Cup victory over the International team Sunday, it was Furyk who was the star for the Americans.

He won all five of his matches -- including the first three with Phil Mickelson -- and joined only Woods, Mark O'Meara and Shigeki Maruyama as players to accomplish that feat in a Presidents Cup.

If the event had an MVP award, it would undoubtedly go to the former U.S. Open champion with an unorthodox swing who was coming off his worst year in a decade.

"I enjoy the team atmosphere, and knowing Phil for as many years as I have … I'm guessing he asked to play with me, because one, I struggled so much this year and played poorly, probably the worst of anybody that's sitting up here right now," Furyk said.

"So knowing him for as long as I have, being good friends, I assume that he asked to play with me because he felt like he could get a lot out of me this week; that maybe he could help me and pump some confidence into me and get me playing well, and he did that.''

Furyk defeated Ernie Els 4 and 3 on Sunday, pouring in putts from all over Melbourne. He went 1 up with an eagle at the second hole and was never tied again. Els won just two holes, but by then it was too late.

Prior to Sunday, Furyk won his first three matches with Mickelson, added another victory on Saturday afternoon with Nick Watney, then went solo on Sunday, when the Americans won six of the 12 matches -- needing just five wins to capture the event for the seventh time.

"I had Phil for three days, and he was playing great, he had a positive attitude,'' Furyk said. "And I was able to kind of ride Nick Watney's coattails a little bit and crack the whip on the young guy. I didn't expect to play as well as I did, but it had to do a lot with my putting this week.''

Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, barely made the U.S. team, backing into one of the 10 automatic spots at the final qualifying event, the BMW Championship, where Bill Haas couldn't supplant him.

But Furyk failed to advance to the Tour Championship, the reigning FedEx Cup champion unable to defend his title.

Furyk finished 36th in the FedEx Cup standings and had just four top-10 finishes in 2011, with none among the top five. He missed seven cuts, and his best finish in a major was a tie for 24th at the Masters.

Two weeks ago, he tied for second at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, so it was difficult to see this performance coming, even for captain Fred Couples.

"I would have said thank you very much,'' Couples quipped, when asked what he would have said had he been told prior to the matches that Furyk would go undefeated. "That happens. We needed it. He was a leader. He and Phil told me -- which was very odd, I wasn't planning on it -- on Tuesday night that they wanted to play together.

"And they rode and rode. Jimmy going 5-0 is great. It's cool. It's unique. It's fun. And I think he's as happy as the rest of the guys are.''

Given his experience, Furyk would have been a good bet for a captain's pick, as he has played in every team competition since 1997. But there was no guarantee at age 41 that he was going to improve his record in such fashion. Furyk is now 20-10-3 at the Presidents Cup.

The partnership with Mickelson proved to be a good one. Despite both being on every U.S. team for the past 14 years, they had been paired together only once previously -- during a four-ball match at the 1999 Ryder Cup.

"We felt like for years we have been wanting to partner up again,'' said Mickelson, who also had a strong Presidents Cup, going 3-1. "And the last few years, there have been some young guys who we wanted to both get out with. This year we felt like our younger guys were ready to play with each other. That gave Jim and I a chance to do what we have been wanting to do for a few years.''

Mickelson's contribution was nearly as big as Furyk's, save for a bizarre match he had with Scott on Sunday in which he conceded the first three holes, didn't break 40 for the first nine, and found himself 4 down at one point. He rallied to force the match to the 17th hole before losing, his first Presidents Cup defeat after nine straight wins dating to 2007. Since going 0-5 in 2003, Mickelson is 12-2-5.

But by that point, it didn't matter. Although the Americans lost the first four matches of the day, only one of the remaining games got to the 18th hole, and the U.S. was firmly in control.

Hunter Mahan and Watney got the first two American victories, and then it was Furyk, David Toms and Woods to finish it off. Mahan, rebounding from a tough Ryder Cup a year ago in which he lost the clinching match, went 4-1.

But none of them had a week like Furyk's.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com