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With 59, Jim Furyk joins elite class

9/13/2013 - Golf Jim Furyk

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As Jim Furyk flirted with and ultimately matched golf's magic number on Friday, this question again hung in the air: Why doesn't 59 happen more often?

Let's face it, these guys aren't using gutta percha balls like Old Tom Morris did, or hickory shafts like Bobby Jones, or even persimmon drivers like Jack Nicklaus.

They have the latest, greatest toys technology can make, not to mention the physical and mental tools that earning millions of dollars playing golf can offer.

And yet, Furyk, 43, became just the sixth player in PGA Tour history -- it has never happened on the European Tour, just once on the LPGA Tour -- to break 60.

Then you look at the numbers. Furyk made 11 birdies and an eagle. He overcame a bogey. He didn't miss a fairway and hit 17 greens in regulation. And he still had to hit a perfect drive, knock a wedge to 3 feet and convert the putt on his last hole at Conway Farms Golf Club to shoot 59 during the second round of the BMW Championship.

"It really was a mental battle and a mental grind," Furyk said. "I'm still scratching my head a little bit. Twelve-under for a round of golf. If you sat me down 10 feet from the hole 18 times today, I wasn't going to make 12 out of 18, more than likely. So I always scratch my head and try to figure out how to get to 59."

And there you have it. A player must still get the ball in the hole, and not even the greatest advances the game has seen can assure that. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson toyed with the number in recent weeks and were unable to match it, and earlier this year Lefty was denied a 59 by a cruel lip-out on the final hole at Phoenix.

Since Al Geiberger became the first to shoot 59 in 1977, we are on a less-than-two-players-every-decade pace for 59s.

Furyk joined Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby as PGA Tour players to shoot 59. Geiberger and Duval are the only previous players who have also won a major championship.

Geiberger, Duval and Beck shot theirs on par-72s, Appleby did it on a par-70. Furyk joined Goydos to have done it on a par-71.

Comparing them is difficult, but know that Furyk shot 59 on a day when the next-best score was 65 and the scoring average during the second round of the BMW Championship was 71. The weather was chilly, the wind was blowing and yet Furyk hit all 14 fairways, 17 of 18 greens and took 23 putts.

"That makes me feel depressed about my round," said Brandt Snedeker, who shot 68 and is tied for the lead with Furyk. "I was actually feeling pretty good about it walking up here."

Furyk became the first player to shoot 59 while making a bogey -- a three-putt on the fifth hole, his 14th -- but also holed a 9-iron from the fairway at No. 15. He made just five pars.

"He just did everything well," said Gary Woodland, who played with Furyk. "He rolled the ball phenomenally. It seemed like he gave himself an opportunity on every hole. It was great to watch, and I'm glad to be part of it.

"He was in the zone today, it was impressive to watch. It's the greatest round I've ever seen, but nothing like that. He drove the ball unbelievably, hit greens but rolled the ball the best I've ever seen."

Chicago has been a place of bittersweet memories for Furyk, who won his only major championship at the 2003 U.S. Open, played at Olympia Fields some 60 miles away.

A year ago, at Medinah, he bogeyed the last two holes of his Ryder Cup singles match with Sergio Garcia to blow a 1-up lead, a crucial defeat that helped Europe overcome a big final-day deficit.

That finish, along with some trying times over the past two years, likely contributed to Furyk being passed over last week by Fred Couples for one of his two at-large selections to the U.S. Presidents Cup team. Furyk has been a part of every U.S. team dating to 1997, and he went 5-0 at the Presidents Cup in Australia two years ago.

But that singles defeat, along with tough finishes last year at the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, have haunted Furyk. He has played better of late but was unable to close out a victory at the PGA Championship, where Jason Dufner passed him on the last day.

"I was bummed about it, but I'm not really a spiteful person," Furyk said of the Presidents Cup snub. "I didn't go out there with a chip on my shoulder to prove anything to anyone this week. I feel like my career has spoken for itself, and I really don't have anything to prove to anyone.

"I just want to play well. I want to go out there and try and contend and play well in a golf tournament and get myself in position for the FedEx Cup."

Furyk has won 16 PGA Tour events in his career. He won the U.S. Open. He previously won the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus when he made a 3-footer on the last hole at East Lake in 2010.

But in a way, shooting 59 -- even if it doesn't come close to assuring victory in the tournament -- might be as career-defining as any of his previous achievements.

Despite all the reasons that suggest such a score would be more common, it is not, making Furyk a part of a very small, historic, list.