PALM HARBOR, Fla. – A PGA Tour winner again after 32 long months, Jim Furyk walked into an interview room at Innisbrook with a three-page transcript that had been folded in half.
It wasn’t a statement or a speech. They weren’t even his words.
As Furyk was finishing off a messy 18th hole that wrapped up a most beautiful victory at the Transitions Championship, ESPN and the Golf Channel broadcast the first interviews of Tiger Woods since his Nov. 27 accident, which set off a shocking sex scandal that has dominated sports news the last four months.
Furyk, one of the closest players to Woods on tour, feigned disappointed and joked, “No one was watching me, then.”
Considering how long it had been since his last tour victory – 58 tournaments over 32 months dating to the 2007 Canadian Open – he didn’t seem terribly bothered.
“You know what? Tomorrow, the paper is going to read that I won the golf tournament, and I don’t really care if it’s a three-page spread or a little blurb in the corner of the paper because the article is about him,” Furyk said.
“I won the damn thing, and it really doesn’t matter to me.”
The timing was coincidental in at least one respect.
While it only counted in the world ranking, Furyk won the Chevron World Challenge against a world-class field of 18 players in December, a tournament hosted by Woods when this sordid saga was just beginning to unfold.
This was more about Furyk, and a badly needed victory.
He almost wanted it too badly.
The facts – no matter how much space or attention they receive – will show that Furyk closed with a 2-under 69 for a one-shot victory over K.J. Choi, and that he earned $972,000 for his 14th career victory.
It was a final round that was at times brilliant, at times sloppy, and uncertain to the very end, which includes weather delays of nearly six hours that left in doubt whether the tournament would end on Sunday.
Whenever he felt the most pressure, Furyk answered with crisp iron shots and clutch putts. No sooner had he built a cushion, Furyk managed to keep it interesting with bogeys, including a trio of three-putt bogeys on the par 3s.
He simply couldn’t get out of his way.
“I made it difficult, there’s no doubt,” said Furyk, who finished at 13-under 271. “It seemed like every time K.J. got close … I was able to bounce right back and hit some really good shots, make a bunch of birdies and get some more distance. And then as soon as I got the distance, I went back to making that same mistake again, or he played well.”
It worked out in the end, but getting there was quite the ride.
As a small consolation prize, being the runner-up meant Choi goes from No. 75 to No. 47 in the world ranking, and he only needs to stay in the top 50 after the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this week to secure an invitation to the Masters.
Upon hearing this news, Choi raised his arms in strongman style with a wide grin.
“It’s actually better than what I thought I would be at this point,” Choi said. “So definitely I’ve exceeded my expectations. All I can say is I will try my best next week to maintain or better that position.”
Equally surprising is that he had a chance – several of them – as did Bubba Watson, who shot 68 and finished third.
Furyk had a three-shot lead, which was erased by Choi’s four birdies through six holes. The turning point for Furyk came at the par-3 eighth, when he rolled in a birdie and Choi missed the green and made bogey, a two-shot swing that Choi never made up.
Furyk knocked in a 35-foot birdie putt on the 12th as Watson was starting to make a move, and after Furyk three-putted the 13th, he answered with another splendid shot, a knockdown 8-iron from 136 yards into the breeze to 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 14th.
And then came another three-putt bogey.
Furyk failed to hit the green in regulation on the final two holes, but he escaped with pars on the first two – a lag from 80 feet off the green on the 16th to tap-in range, and a superb bunker shot from sand that had been washed out by the earlier rain to 8 feet on the 17th.
More negative thinking crept into his head. Furyk had hit the ball beautifully on the 18th all week, but knowing that a tee shot left could lead to a big number, he hit right into the trees. Trying to advance the ball close to the green, he hit what Furyk called a half-shank that nearly took out NBC Sports reporter Roger Maltbie.
“I have a habit of making it tough on myself,” Furyk said. “Just nerves got me, to be honest with you.”
From a good lie in the rough, Furyk kept his shot pin-high and removed all drama by lagging that par putt to an inch, assured victory when Choi failed to chip in for birdie from just short of the green.
And that’s when the Woods interview began, although it was only about five minutes.
“Pretty much the same stuff that we already knew,” said Furyk, who managed to scan one page of the transcript. “But I think it’s good for him to get his face out there and have people see him. They are going to make their judgments, but I think it allows him to kind of move on and get focused for the next thing.”
The good news for Furyk? He no longer has to focus on the past.