LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Even with the game’s biggest attraction coming down the 18th hole, hundreds of fans poured out of the grandstands and raced about 50 yards to the ninth green. A few hours earlier, Jim Furyk had begun his day at the BMW Championship in front of a few dozen. Now, they all stood shoulder-to-shoulder, craning their necks for a peek, shouting silly things like, “Jimmy, I’ll give it to you!”
To shoot the sixth 59 in PGA Tour history, Furyk first stuffed a smooth gap wedge – a “bread-and-butter shot” – to 3 feet, 3 inches. Instantly, the downhill, left-to-right breaker reminded him of the putt he needed to capture the Tour Championship-FedEx Cup double dip in 2010, the final stroke in his three-win, Player of the Year season.
Furyk doesn’t remember stroking the short putt on the ninth green, but he recalled hearing the roars from the fans there, and pumping his fist, and hugging his caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowan, and thanking Gary Woodland for talking football with him on 8 tee as he was “pacing like a mad dog.”
“This,” Furyk said afterward, “was kind of like winning a golf tournament.”
Conway Farms shouldn’t have yielded a 59 on Friday. No way. The high temperature barely crawled above 60 degrees. The wind howled at times up to 25 mph. The greens were drying up, fast, and a few of the hole locations were cut in devilish spots.
But on Friday, on the 7,149-yard, par-71 layout, Furyk carded 11 birdies and an eagle, was more than 12 shots better than the Round 2 scoring average (71.086) and was six shots clear of the next-best score (Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth, 65).
Yes, it was Furyk’s best round ever, but he wasn’t ready to concede it was his greatest accomplishment. It’s in the same neighborhood, certainly, right there with his first PGA Tour win, in 1995; and his first and only major title, in 2003; and being part of the Americans’ epic comeback at Brookline.
“This falls right in the mix with those,” he said.
Said Cowan, “All I can say is it was a very special round of golf. Very special. Incredible.”
On the day, Furyk made only five putts outside 10 feet, and none longer than 25 feet. He hit every fairway, all but one green and required only 23 putts.
“It’s the greatest round I’ve ever seen,” Woodland said. “Talk about being in the zone all day. He drove the ball unbelievably but rolled the ball as well as I’ve ever seen. He never let up, every shot. He just kept going.”
Being grouped with a player chasing a sub-60 score can be a bit like a baseball player watching his starting pitcher go for a perfect game. Keep away, far away, lest you ruin the mojo.
Woodland tried to stay away, and tried not to bother Furyk, but eventually he relented. They talked football all day, especially during the last few holes, when Furyk was at his most vulnerable, and Woodland couldn’t resist giving the Pittsburgh native a little needle about his beat-up Steelers.
“He can give me a hard time about golf, I guess,” Woodland said, smiling.
Meanwhile, tournament co-leader Brandt Snedeker stared at the Jumbotron next to 18 and thought Furyk’s score was a misprint.
“I thought, 'What the heck? Are you serious? There’s no way',” Snedeker said. “I don’t think anyone out here saw that score coming.”
Snedeker was then reminded that Furyk accomplished the feat with a bogey on his card, too.
“That makes me feel depressed about my round,” said Snedeker, who shot 68.
Said Zach Johnson (70), in solo third: “Oh my gosh. I don’t have anything to say about that. That is ridiculous.”
Furyk, a member of every U.S. team since 1997, was not chosen by Fred Couples as one of his two captain’s picks for next month’s event at Muirfield Village. Furyk found out about the news via text message, not a phone call.
It took a few days to get over that disappointment, and eventually he talked to Couples, but Furyk decided to commit himself to finishing off what’s been a late-season surge, with four top 10s in his last five starts.
“It was bummed about it, but I’m not a spiteful person,” he said. “I didn’t go out there with a chip on my shoulder to prove anything to anyone this week. I feel like my career has spoken for itself. ...
“But I kind of had to go through those emotions again a little bit. So (Thursday) I was a little grouchy, to be honest with you. But I felt like last night I kind of kicked myself in the rear end and said, ‘You know, it’s done with. It’s over. I know the emotions came back up, but there’s nothing I can do to change it now. It’s over. Let’s just focus on this week.’ ”
His legendary focus will be tested again this weekend.
Nine shots back to start the second round, he now finds himself in a share of the lead at 11-under 131 heading into the weekend. He enjoyed the attention and the spotlight and the cheers, no doubt, but in some sense he has to forget about the 59, about what he just accomplished.
“Tomorrow is a new day, for better or for worse,” he said. “But I’ll have a big, fat smile on my face when I go to bed tonight.”
In the dizzying aftermath, Furyk scribbled his name and “59” on a sleeve of balls for the standard-bearers and volunteers. He signed autographs for a few minutes after his TV interviews. Someone from the Tour collected a signed glove, soon to be displayed in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
And then he reached into his right pants pocket and pulled out another ball.
“That’s the one that went in on 9,” he said, waving it in the air, “and it’s staying with me.”