Furyk looking to find form in Transitions title defense


Transistions ChampionshipPALM HARBOR, Fla. – Coming off the best season of his career, Jim Furyk was determined to start his PGA Tour season much better than he has in previous years.

He finished 10 shots behind at the season opener in Kapalua. He missed two cuts. A strong finish at Riviera allowed him to wind up only 11 shots behind the winner. And he was eliminated in the first round of the Match Play Championship.

“I probably have done a very poor job preparing in the offseason, something I need to address,” Furyk said. “I thought I would address it this year. But obviously, I didn’t.”

He started the year at No. 5 in the world and is now at No. 12 and falling. The Masters is around the corner.

Furyk isn’t worried.

A year ago, he didn’t crack the top 15 in any tournament until winning the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook, which starts Thursday. Except for the year he won Kapalua, he rarely gets off to a strong start.

“Only thing to do is keep plugging away and work hard, which I had been doing,” Furyk said. “Eventually, I’m old enough to know that we’re in the middle of March – not a time to push the panic button. It’s a long season. I have a lot of events to play well this year, whether that’s this week or next week or whatever it may be.

“Right now, I would like to play well here and at Bay Hill, and gain some confidence going into Augusta.”

Last year at Innisbrook, he had gone 2 1/2 years without winning when he strung together four rounds in the 60s on one of the toughest tracks in Florida and held on with a bogey at the 18th to beat K.J. Choi. That set in motion a year in which Furyk won three times, capping it off with the Tour Championship and the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus.

It’s easy to look for other causes of the pedestrian play for Furyk.

He made a modest equipment change from last year in which he has a corporate deal for his cap and another one for his bag. He has switched to a TaylorMade driver and golf ball, although he is free to put anything else in his bag. For the moment, he still uses the Srixon irons by choice.

It is rare for a top player to fill most of his bag with anything, and he’s done some testing.

“There’s good tinkering and there’s bad tinkering,” Furyk said. “Having that open bag is wonderful other than the fact that everyone knows that you have an open bag and you can have a lot of toys in there at times. I’ve been testing and I’ve been going through things it. It would be better to do it at home, but quite honestly, there’s no conditions like tour conditions.”

The Transitions Championship is one step closer to the Masters, and the fields are getting stronger by the week.

Innisbrook has the No. 1 player in the world for the first time since Vijay Singh in 2005. This time it’s Martin Kaymer, and there is plenty of company in the world ranking, more reflected in its depth.

Among the top players are Nick Watney, coming off his big win last week at Doral, along with the likes of Paul Casey, Geoff Ogilvy and Bubba Watson. Filling out this field is a wonderful display of youth – U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, 17-year-old Matteo Manassero and 19-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, trying to bring some happy news to Japan.

A few years ago, this tournament could have boasted having Sergio Garcia.

The 31-year-old Spaniard reached as high as No. 2 in the world about this time a year ago. Now he has plunged to No. 85 as he tries to work himself out of the worst kind of slump. The scores haven’t been great, but Garcia was more concerned with what was going on inside his head and his heart.

When he tees off Thursday, it will be his first tournament on American soil since he missed the cut at the PGA Championship last year. He took off 10 weeks following the final major, returning to play in Spain and a few Asian events. He played three times in the Middle East this year on the European Tour.

Garcia wanted the time off to clear his head and try to find the enthusiasm that has made him one of the top players the past decade. He enjoys being on the course, although the road back appears long, and Garcia is not in a big hurry.

“To tell you the truth, I just want to be out there and just want to enjoy playing,” Garcia said. “And hopefully, just play better as I get on. Whatever happens, happens.”