PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Jim Furyk has gone 58 tournaments over 32 months without winning on the PGA Tour. That doesn’t make the final round of the Transitions Championship any more important than it would have been in good times.
“It’s not really, ‘I want to show you’ or anything like that,” Furyk said after shooting a 4-under 67 to open a three-shot lead. “It’s more that I just want to win a golf tournament.”
Furyk has heard one question – “What has kept you from winning?” – far too often since his victory in the 2007 Canadian Open. With a round as flawless as the spring weather in Florida, he put himself in great position to answer it. He made consecutive birdies early on the back nine, and kept bogeys off his card for his first 54-hole lead in nearly three years.
Pressure? No more than usual.
“It’s not really a monkey-off-my-back perspective or ‘Boy, I can’t wait to not answer that question again,”’ Furyk said. “It’s just that I want to go out and win a golf tournament. That’s what we play golf for. That’s what I practice hard for. And I haven’t been able to do that in over 2 1/2 years.
“It’s disappointing, because I work pretty hard at it.”
Furyk was at 11-under 202, with a strong group of contenders behind him.
Defending champion Retief Goosen birdied the last hole of a roller-coaster round that gave him a 1-under 70, part of four-way tie for second. The others at 8-under 205 were two past champions at Innisbrook – K.J. Choi (67) and Carl Pettersson (70) – and Bubba Watson, who has never won on Tour. He scrambled for a 70.
Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion who hasn’t won since the 2008 PGA Championship, went 14 holes without a birdie to fall out of the lead, then dropped another shot on the 18th hole for a 72 that left him four shots behind.
None of them felt like they were out of it.
“It’s obviously only one person, so that’s not so bad,” Harrington said. “I don’t want to give Jim a four-shot lead over a four-round tournament, let alone one round. There’s enough guys behind that somebody is going to shoot a good score and put some pressure on him. Hopefully it’s me.”
Furyk last had a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour at Colonial in 2007, when he lost in a playoff to Rory Sabbatini.
There have been times when he let tournaments get away down the stretch, and times when he was beaten, such as the Memorial last year when he was three shots better than everyone in the field except one guy – Tiger Woods – who won by a shot.
Sunday might be his best chance.
The few times when Furyk made a mistake, such as missing the green on the par-3 fourth, he made up for it with his putting. Later in the warm afternoon, when he was giving himself so many birdie chances, he had to settle for par.
The turning point came early on the back nine.
Four players had at least a share of the lead at some point, and eight players were within range until Furyk hit a 3-wood just left of the green on the par-5 11th and chipped to 4 feet for birdie. On the next hole, he hit 7-iron to some 35 feet behind the flag, and poured in a long, slippery put that broke sharply to the cup.
Suddenly, he was three shots clear and his prospects were looking up.
Not so for Pettersson, who closed out the front nine with consecutive bogeys, or Steve Stricker, who was tied for the lead until hitting his tee shot in the water on the par-3 13th and scrambling for bogey. Stricker dropped another shot on a par 3 coming in for a 71, and wound up five shots behind.
Choi is a two-time winner in Tampa and feels as comfortable on the Copperhead course as any.
“I look at the tops of the trees to see the wind,” Choi said. “You have to know, and it can get frustrating. You can lose it out here. This course will do that. That’s why you see so many players who have won here before, because they know that.”
Goosen also is a two-time winner, and while he didn’t like up the course, playing bogey-free on the back nine didn’t hurt.
The wild card is Watson, the big hitter who was a little too crooked but scrambled well to stay in the game. Watson hit one tee shot that didn’t get beyond the forward tees on the par-3 eighth because it hit a tree. On the par-5 14th, his 3-wood into the wind wound up so far right of the green that players on the 15th tee had to back off the shot.
Sunday features an early start because of storms in the forecast for the afternoon.
Geoff Ogilvy is probably too far back to contend – he was seven shots behind – but the fact he is still playing is a story in itself. Thinking he was sure to miss the cut, Ogilvy boarded a plane for Arizona when he realized he might have a chance, but because the flight was about to depart, the former U.S. Open champion had to fly to Phoenix, then turn around and take a jet back to Tampa.
Playing on about one hour of sleep, he shot a 65 and was tied for 18th.
“It was worth coming back,” he said.