Furyk Back on Track Picking Up Steam

By Mercer BaggsMay 11, 2005, 4:00 pm
Thanks, Jim. Thanks for doing my job for me.
 
I had this wonderful idea bouncing around in my head last week at the Wachovia Championship. Lets catch up with Jim Furyk, I thought. Hes playing well of late; let me let the golfing public know where Jim Furyk is in relation to his comeback from wrist surgery a year ago.
 
Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk reacts to his birdie on the 72nd hole to force a three-way playoff at the Wachovia Championship.
And so we chatted Friday after you shot a solid, even-par 72 to keep you within four shots of Sergio Garcias 36-hole lead.
 
You gave me a good 10 minutes of your time, and offered some positive insight. I left feeling positive myself, thinking I was ready to inform the golfing world: Jim Furyk is back.
 
And then you went ahead and did it yourself over the weekend at Quail Hollow. You shot 69-66 to get into a three-way playoff with Garcia and Vijay Singh. And you nearly outlasted them both for what would have been your first PGA Tour win since the 2003 Buick Open.
 
You just couldnt wait, could you? If you had just held off for one more week to contend then you would have allowed me to be the messenger ' and then you could have validated my feature. It would have been perfect.
 
Instead, you let your clubs scoop me.
 
But thats OK. I certainly dont hold it against you. Youve been waiting for nearly two years to win again, and its been over a year since you had arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage damage in your left wrist.
 
When its time, its time. And you cant hold off a break-through performance for my sake.
 
You told me that you never regretted the surgery. You were a little apprehensive at first, and who could blame you? You were fresh off your most successful campaign as a professional ' and thats saying a lot. You were the reigning U.S. Open champion. You were the third-ranked player in the world at one point.
 
And then the Jimbo Express, running full steam ahead, ran right off the tracks.
 
That's when you were faced with the uncertainties of surgery.
 
You had to wonder: Will this make me a better player? Will I even be as good as I am now? Will I be worse? Will I -- gasp! -- have to become a television analyst at an early age?
 
You said that it all worked out for the best, even though you were out for five months last year and had only two top-10s upon your return. Youre now pain free, and that was worth one lost season.
 
You didnt win in Charlotte ' officially speaking, but it certainly had to feel like a victory on some level. After all, you handled yourself quite admirably, under pressure you hadnt faced in quite some time. You handled the pressure of playing in the final twosome on Sunday; you handled being six down to start the day; you handled the need to birdie the final hole of regulation to ensure a spot in the sudden-death playoff; and then after disposing of Garcia, you nearly put a handle on arguable the best player in the game in Singh.
 
We now know youre 'back' ' peers and public alike. And evidently you didnt need me to be the set-up man.
 
But, nevertheless, Im going to relay the things you told me ' back when I mistakenly perceived myself to be a herald.
 
'I have confidence in it, you said of your game. Ive felt good ever since we hit the east coast ' since the end of March, Ive felt good about my game. Ive played some really solid tournaments and Im hoping to keep that up ' trying to put myself in position to win a tournament.
 
Well, that didnt take long.
 
'I love the summer, you added. When the weather gets hot, I like it. I love Colonial, I love Memorial. We have a great stretch after that, too, with Congressional, Pinehurst, Westchester, Cog Hill ' all great golf courses. I kind of love that stretch, from May to the first of July.
 
This is your time of year, no doubt about it.
 
You have a pair of top-5 finishes at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship, which you are competing in this week. You have four career top-10s at the Bank of America Colonial, including a runner-up in 1998. You won the 2002 Memorial Tournament. You tied for fifth in the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, which will host this years Booz Allen Classic. You won the 2003 U.S. Open. You have a pair of top-3s at the Barclays Classic (formerly the Buick Classic). And youve finished in the top-10 in five of your last six starts at the Cialis Western Open.
 
You plan on playing in all of these events over the next two months.
 
Ill probably play eight of the next nine weeks ' and Ill be fried by the end of that point. But Im looking forward to it, you said.
 
You admitted that you got a little antsy last year. Things started off well, you said, and then you kind of got a bit ahead of yourself. You made your return at the U.S. Open ' three months earlier than initially expected. It took you 10 years on tour to win your first major and you just couldnt imagine missing a chance to defend that title.
 
Your expectations were reasonable. But, of course, that didnt last very long.
 
That five-month layoff I had, its tough to kind of come right back. Youre not coming back when youre 100 percent healthy either. Not to mention that everyone is going to compare how I played last year to how I played in 03, which was my best year ever. I couldnt expect to get right back to where I was, you said.
 
I was very patient for the first couple of months. But towards the end of the season ' I was just getting going towards the end of the season, and I tried to push a little too hard. Were all competitors; were all trying to do well. Its kind of natural instinct to want to go back out there and want to get it back quick.'
 
When a train gets derailed, it doesn't get back on the tracks and resume the same pace. That requires time and momentum.
 
More than anything, Im just happy to get a full season under my belt ' play 25 events and kind of relax a little bit. Know that I dont need to do it now, now, now. Ive got a whole year to see how well I can play.
 
This weeks Byron Nelson will be youre 12th start of the season. Youve only missed one cut and you have five top-10s. In your last two starts, you got a back-door T2 at the MCI Heritage and then broke the hinges off the proper entrance on your way to the same result at the Wachovia.
 
You're No. 18 with a bullet in the world rankings.
 
If only now you could get people to quit questioning the past.
 
Maybe everyone would quit asking me how my wrist is doing (if I won), you said in Saturdays press conference. I realize everyone means well, but, wow, have I answered that question a lot in the last 12 months.
 
You smiled when you said this, but it was easy to tell that you would prefer to go hatless and without sunscreen for four rounds in Memphis than to have to discuss that particular body part again.
 
Youre playing quite well at the moment ' kind of like the Jim Furyk circa 2003. It would certainly seem that you are indeed 'back.' But I guess you dont need me to tell you ' or anyone else, for that matter ' that.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - EDS Byron Nelson Championship
  • Getty Images

    LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

    The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

    The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

    The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

    The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

    The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

    Getty Images

    Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

    An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

    It was too much “socializing.”

    “I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

    Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

    “Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

    Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

    His plan for doing that?

    “Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

    Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

    McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

    Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

    So much for easing into the new year.

    So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

    McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

    “It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

    McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

    If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

    After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

    “It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

    McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

    “That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

    It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

    “When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

    A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

    A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

    Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

    To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

    Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

    McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

    “I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

    A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

    “I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

    A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

    Getty Images

    Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

    SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

    The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

    Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

    Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

    ''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

    The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

    ''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

    Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

    ''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

    Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

    He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

    Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

    Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

    He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

    Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.