There were simply too many players right behind, too many possibilities going into the final round of the FedEx Cup.
Furyk scrambled for two good bogeys on the back nine and two consecutive birdies late on another steamy day at East Lake to build a one-shot lead over Retief Goosen and Luke Donald going into the final round Sunday.
Goosen, who won the Tour Championship in 2004 on a rare occasion that Tiger Woods didn’t hold a 54-hole lead, didn’t make a bogey until the final hole and shot a 4-under 66. Donald was atop the leaderboard most of the round until a three-putt double bogey on No. 15, the only par 5 on the back nine. He shot a 71.
“I have to win tomorrow, and the idea is just to go out and do the best I can to do that,” said Furyk, who was at 8-under 202.
The top three on the leaderboard can win the FedEx Cup, along with Geoff Ogilvy (72) at 5-under 205.
But it’s not as simple as winning.
Paul Casey, who shot a 69 and tied for fifth at 4-under 206, could still win the FedEx Cup by finishing in second place alone. Charley Hoffman, another shot back at 207 after his 69, still has a chance win the $10 million bonus if he were to finish alone in third.
Never has the FedEx Cup finale had so many possibilities.
“In the past, we had an idea who was going to win, or who had already won,” Goosen said, referring to Tiger Woods in 2007 and 2009, and Vijay Singh in 2008 when the points system was so skewed that the Fijian had already clinched the cup when he showed up at East Lake.
A half-dozen players have a realistic chance at winning the FedEx Cup.
It starts with playing well on Sunday, when the tee times will be early because rain is in the forecast that could dramatically change the fast, firm conditions of East Lake.
And as Donald showed in the third round, it all can change so quickly.
The Englishman was never out of the lead until he dumped his third shot into the bunker on the par-5 15th up the hill into a far corner of East Lake. He blasted out to about 12 feet, then ran his par putt 3 feet by. Donald hit the next putt too firmly to catch the grain, and he walked off with a shocking double bogey.
Furyk, who holed a 10-foot birdie, suddenly had a two-shot lead.
“It was frustrating to give away a couple there,” Donald said. “But I hit a lot of good shots today. I’m in great position – still just one back, and this is the last Sunday of the regular tour, and I’ve got a chance to win it all. So that’s nice to know.”
Goosen has a chance to cap off a solid year with a victory, something he has failed to do. His nine top 10s are second on tour only to Matt Kuchar, although the two-time U.S. Open champion has never come seriously close to winning.
What a time it would be to end that drought. Goosen has a chance to walk away with $11.35 million, including the bonus. He was asked if ever imagined winning $10 million in a single day when he turned pro.
“Maybe 10 million Zimbabwean dollars,” the South African said.
Ogilvy fell out of the hunt quickly, with a bogey on the first hole and a double bogey on the next one. He battled his way around, however, and finished with a 10-foot birdie that seemed to take 10 minutes to trickle down the slope and fall in the side of the cup. That left him only three shots behind.
And if anyone needed evidence a low score was available at East Lake, consider Nick Watney. His caddie has been calling him “Melba” all week because Watney is so tired from a long year – and with his wedding a month away – that he’s toast. Watney had never heard of Melba toast, which was just as well. He resembled a jalapeno on Saturday, making seven birdies on the back nine for a 28, and shooting a 63 that put him all the way to 2-under 208 and in eighth place.
Phil Mickelson shot a 68 and was seven shots behind, enough to hope, but little more than that. He also would need a victory to have any chance of winning the FedEx Cup for the first time, and six shots out of second place. That’s what Lefty needs to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world ranking.