Commentary

Painful reminders for Jim Furyk

Updated: September 16, 2013, 11:03 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The congratulatory calls and texts were still flowing in over the weekend, especially Sunday, when Jim Furyk could do nothing but hear the rain pounding on the roof, watch football and answer the well-wishers.

Furyk figured he got more kudos for shooting 59 on Friday than he did for any of his 16 PGA Tour victories, including the 2003 U.S. Open.

That's how big a deal it was to shoot golf's magic number, becoming just the sixth player in the history of the PGA Tour to break 60.

[+] EnlargeZach Johnson
Michael Cohen/Getty ImagesZach Johnson's 10th PGA Tour title came partially at the expense of Jim Furyk, who hasn't won since the 2010 Tour Championship. Both players will be teeing it up at East Lake this week for a shot at the FedEx Cup title -- and the $10 million bonus.

Of course, it would have been even better for Furyk had he been able to back it up Monday with a victory at the BMW Championship, where the weather-delayed final round concluded without him holding the trophy.

Zach Johnson, who captured his 10th PGA Tour title, had been knocking on victory's door for the past two months, losing in a playoff at the John Deere Classic and rattling off top-10 finishes at the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the PGA Championship and the Wyndham Championship.

The 2007 Masters champion shot a final-round 65 on a cool, windy day. And losing to that score is no shame.

Still, for Furyk, who has had his share of final-round misfortune since his previous victory at the 2010 Tour Championship, this figures to sting.

"You can't help but feel for him," Johnson said. "Jim had a remarkable week. He's the kind of guy I've tried to model my game after. He doesn't overpower golf courses. He's one of the steadiest players we've seen in the last 15 years, and as a result his résumé is as deep as it is."

When you shoot 12-under-par in one round, you sort of expect to win the tournament. It's no guarantee, of course -- he became the third 59-shooter to not go on to win -- but at Conway Farms, that score on Friday was such a boost over the rest of the competitors. It was better than anyone else by six strokes, and bested the field average by more than 12.

And he did take a one-shot advantage over Steve Stricker into the final round and had a three-shot cushion over Johnson.

"Right now, on Monday after the fourth round and finishing third, it doesn't mean that much right this second," Furyk said of the 59. "I was excited on Friday and when I'm done and retired, it'll be one of the probably [top] three highlights of my career."

Furyk said he got a text over the weekend from Al Geiberger, who at the 1977 Memphis Open was the first player to shoot 59. Like Furyk, Geiberger did it in the second round and had to grind for victory. None of his other three rounds were in the 60s.

Geiberger has long been known as "Mr. 59" because of the feat, and Furyk heard that chant over the weekend, saying it was awkward. "I don't think I'd ever get used to that," he said. "Al is going to be Mr. 59 forever."

It was never going to be easy to follow up that score, but Furyk did admirably enough on Saturday, shooting 69 to give himself the one-shot advantage heading into the final round.

The previous five times he held a 54-hole lead, however, Furyk failed to convert, including twice in major championships and once at a World Golf Championship event.

All were painful: the 2012 U.S. Open, where he was tied for the lead on the 16th tee of the final round; the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where a last-hole double-bogey cost him the victory; and last month at the PGA Championship, where Jason Dufner passed him in the final round.

"The wrong way to ever think about a lead is holding on," Furyk said. "I never looked at it as I have to hold on to the lead. On Friday it would have been like trying to hold on to 12 under. That's a bogey waiting to happen.

"I really felt like today the idea was to go out aggressive, hit the ball at the pins, try to shoot 4 or 5 under, make the rest of the field chase me. I just wasn't able to do it. I'm disappointed I didn't win, but I've got some positives. I'm playing really well and on a golf course I like [this] week in Atlanta. And a win there could do some damage."

No doubt, a victory at East Lake at the Tour Championship could very well mean a FedEx Cup title for Furyk, and the $10 million bonus that goes to the overall champion might help some of the hurt go away.

But this year, Furyk has gone north of $55 million in career earnings, not including the FedEx bonus money and endorsements. At age 43, victories are the thing, probably far more important than any monetary prize that is long forgotten.

That, ultimately, is what it was about on Monday. As he said on Friday, when he was on the cusp of 59, how many chances is he going to have to break 60?

While winning opportunities come along far more often, they are not so common as to expect that the next one is imminent. When will the next chance to win come again?

That is the question Furyk had hoped to answer Monday, memories of a historic achievement having to suffice.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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