After Jim Furyk birdied on 18 late Sunday at THE PLAYERS, a few tears crept down his face as he tipped his hat to the crowd and walked toward the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse.
At that moment, Furyk was the leader of the tournament at 15-under, but perhaps more significant, the longtime area resident was home, with friends and family in the crowd, and he had returned to a state of his game not seen in years.
“I missed the nerves, I missed the excitement, the cheers, and I think the emotion you saw on 18 was just I was proud of the way I played,” said the 48-year-old Furyk, who finished the tournament 15-under 273, just one stroke behind ultimate winner Rory McIlroy. “I haven’t been healthy in a lot of years. I haven’t put myself in the heat to win a golf tournament in a while, and I missed it.”
A welcome surprise
Furyk qualified for THE PLAYERS as one of the last six golfers in the field, according to the PGA TOUR. Planning to have an off week, he learned of his fate the Sunday before the tournament, sometime between hosting a baby shower for military moms-to-be, and a charity concert for his foundation.
He took advantage of the last-minute opportunity. After shooting a 1-under 71 on a blustery Thursday afternoon, Furyk played in calmer conditions on Friday morning and shot a course-best 8-under 64, making eight birdies and 10 pars. It was his lowest score in 80 rounds at THE PLAYERS, and he was tied for third at 9-under.
On Saturday, Furyk didn’t have as much success, shooting another 71, but he played well enough to stay within striking distance for Sunday. He finished at 10-under, tied for sixth and five shots behind third-round leader Jon Rahm.
Paired with Joel Dahmen, Furyk started Sunday’s round with a bogey at 1, but recovered with an eagle at 2 and made par on 3 and 4. The sequence of events at holes 5 though 8, where Furyk went birdie, par, par, par, proved to be crucial.
“5, 6, 7, 8, I hit just some horrific golf shots, and I kind of lost my tempo, I lost some confidence back there, made some bad swings, and I was able to get the ball up-and-down,” he said. “I chipped in on 5, two-putted 6, got up-and-down from the bunker at 7, got up-and-down from short of the green on 8. So I played four holes where I really felt lost with my setup and my golf swing and I played them 1-under par. That saved my round.”
After a par on 9, Furyk said he told his caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowan, he had to make an adjustment heading into the back nine, because something just wasn’t right.
“I think I know what I’m doing wrong,” Furyk said he told Fluff, “and if I can just get it going and hit a couple good shots at like 10, 11, 12, I think we can get through…”
The halftime adjustment was perfectly planned. Furyk birdied on 10 and 11 and jumped to the top of the leaderboard.
Then tied with Rahm for the lead at 14-under, the crowds surrounding Furyk began to quickly multiply. After nearly draining a 14-foot putt on 12 for birdie, Furyk settled for par. On the walk from 12 to 13, he pounded the waiting fists of a few kids standing behind the ropes.
“What’s up, guys?” Furyk calmly asked, as a few other kids started screaming Fluff’s name.
Furyk made par on the par-3 13th, and then drained a 6-foot putt for par at 14. Jacksonville resident Bill Koch was excited to see Furyk’s run unfold before his eyes.
“He’s a local boy,” Koch said. “We all love him. He’s a great player, and it’s exciting to see a guy with a little age competing with the youngsters.”
A missed putt for par at 15 resulted in a costly bogey for Furyk, which dropped him to 13-under and tied for third.
Nevertheless, Ponte Vedra High School senior Matt Howard was impressed on the way to 16.
“It’s incredible,” Howard said. “My dad’s 53 and just seeing him (Furyk) out here. 48. Like wow. You never really see that, do you?”
An epic charge
After a birdie at 16, Furyk was back at 14-under. On the way to 17, it seemed as if every fan in the stands was a direct member of the Furyk family, with cheers, whistles and applause resonating throughout the iconic golf arena. Once on the Island Green, he nearly birdied but missed just right, finishing the hole with a par.
At the par-4 18th, Furyk hit a round-defining 7-iron to within 3 feet of the hole and ultimately birdied to finish the day 5-under 67 as the clubhouse leader.
“I had to hit that 7-iron pretty hard, and so I was aiming out there 15, 20 feet right of the pin and trying to hammer it,” Furyk said. “It was going to try to hold it for a while, but I knew as hard as I was hitting it, it was going to land, the wind was getting it, and it came off exactly how I planned.”
Furyk’s dramatic finish did not ward off the roar of Rory, who was a few holes behind. Furyk said that end result, though, doesn’t take away from his feelings about his performance.
“I don’t feel any less pride for the way I played because I didn’t win,” Furyk said. “And because it was Rory, I mean, probably doesn’t take any sting out of it. I have a lot of respect for his game. I have a lot of respect for him as a person. But it still stings. I mean, I’m a competitor, and it pisses me off I didn’t (win).”
As for the future, Furyk said he still plans to play 18 to 20 events in total this year, but his performance at THE PLAYERS may result in him changing his schedule, as he will qualify for additional tournaments.
“My whole goal was to see how competitive I could be,” Furyk said about this season. “I was definitely at peace with whatever happened. I was just excited about the fact that I was healthy, and I wanted to see what I could do. So this tournament showed me.”