AUSTIN, TEXAS | Once the disappointment and deflation from the 2018 Ryder Cup had begun to subside early last winter, Jim Furyk found himself on the practice tee at home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., returning to the ritual of hitting balls.
With his 49th birthday approaching in May and without full status on the PGA Tour – hard to believe for the tour’s fourth all-time leading money winner – Furyk figured he could get into enough tournaments this year to get a read on his game as he began to contemplate moving to the PGA Tour Champions in mid-2020.
The more he practiced, the more Furyk liked what was happening. He’d missed approximately six months in late 2017 and early 2018 rehabbing a bad shoulder and by the time he was healthy enough to play, he was in the heart of his Ryder Cup captaincy.
Back in grind mode, Furyk was encouraged.
“I was practicing and working pretty hard and talking to my dad and my wife like, you know, I actually feel really good. I’m kinda interested to see how it holds up. Can I take it to the tour?” Furyk said.
“I haven’t been that competitive the last few years, I really haven’t been that healthy. But go back to ’15 and I was ranked fourth in the world then I got hurt.
“I’m not that guy again. I’m 48. I guess the whole goal was I just wanted to come out and let it rip and let’s see where it takes us.”
How about the Masters?
By winning his first two matches in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, if Furyk wins his match on Friday against Henrik Stenson, he will have enough points to move into the top 50 in the world ranking come Monday, thereby earning an invitation to Augusta National. He entered the Match Play 54th in the world after being 217th when he teed it up in February’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am to start his 2019 season.
“He’s got a boatload of, I’ll use a proper term, intestinal fortitude. One of his best attributes is how competitive he is. It just shows. We were down for a couple of years and he just won’t say no,” said Mike “Fluff” Cowan, Furyk’s longtime caddie.
What’s happening now – in his last three starts Furyk has finished T9 at the Honda Classic, second at the Players Championship and T18 at the Valspar Championship – began with a sixth-place finish at the Mayakoba Golf Classic last November.
By then, Furyk had begun to shake off the lingering funk from the Americans’ Ryder Cup loss in Paris. The defeat stung as did the aftermath with the controversy swirling regarding critical comments made by Patrick Reed.
Asked this week about finally being past the Ryder Cup, Furyk laughed and said, “It’s nice to hear someone say we’re finally past it. … I still got asked questions about it this week.”
It took time. A very long time.
“It wasn’t like I came home from the Ryder Cup and wanted to go practice. It took me about three, four weeks to decompress … I started playing and got the juices going.”
Furyk has won 17 times on the PGA Tour, including a U.S. Open, with a combination of grit and guile. He is not the longest nor the straightest hitter nor the best putter but bring everything together and Furyk is a bulldog.
Finding himself in what has become a no-man’s land for many players – too old to compete with the young players on the PGA Tour and still more than a year from turning 50 – Furyk continues to evaluate his future.
In doing so, the present has turned into a surprise party.
“I’m 48. I guess the whole goal was I just wanted to come out and let it rip and let’s see where it takes us,” Furyk said. “If I’m competitive and can get myself in contention and have some chances in tournaments, that’s really cool.”
He wasn’t qualified for the Players Championship until the preceding week and had contemplated being at home in Ponte Vedra Beach but ineligible to play at TPC Sawgrass.
“To sit and watch in my hometown would have been really miserable,” Furyk said.
“You start thinking where I was two years ago, it was pretty cool. By the time I got home and had friends and family there, it was more happy. It was just that initial, he taps in, and I went, damn.” – Jim Furyk, on finishing second to Rory McIlroy at the Players Championship
At the Players, Furyk forced Rory McIlroy to beat him, closing with a Sunday 67 in tough conditions that included a masterpiece birdie on the 72nd hole. When Furyk finished, he knew McIlroy had to par the difficult 18th to beat him. That’s what McIlroy did.
“When (winning) didn’t happen I was disappointed,” Furyk said. “To have all that adrenaline and hit some good shots down the stretch, to birdie 16 and 18, hit a good putt at 17, I walked off of 18 thinking maybe.
“I was pretty disappointed. I went to the media room and the questions came in and I thought about how I wanted to answer them and there was nothing I could have done. I left it all out there. I just got beat by a great player.
“You start thinking where I was two years ago, it was pretty cool. By the time I got home and had friends and family there, it was more happy. It was just that initial, he taps in, and I went, damn.”
The Players performance got Furyk into the Match Play, where he beat Jason Day and Phil Mickelson in the first two rounds, setting up a Friday battle to advance against Henrik Stenson.
Regardless of the outcome, the Masters – what had been a long-shot goal – is almost certainly in Furyk’s future now.
“Just because I played well, I’ve only played six events this calendar year, kind of pump the brakes a little bit,” Furyk said.
“There are still some things I need to work on, some things I need to get better at but it’s fun getting in the heat again and getting to test my game when I’m nervous and when it counts.”
Jim Furyk shakes hands with Phil Mickelson after beating Mickelson in the second round of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Photo: Ezra Shaw, Getty Images
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