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Hawk's Nest: Finally entering golf's home stretch

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Just as the snarkiest of cynics feared, the PGA Tour’s 11 ½-month golf season has become a long walk to a small house. Jimmy Walker hasn’t contended on a Sunday in almost six months, yet he still leads the FedEx Cup points derby by a comfortable margin – Bubba Watson is the only player within 500 points of Mr. Dy-No-Mite.

Remember Patrick Reed? He's been missing in action since the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March, yet he just slipped out of the top 10 and remains one spot ahead of British Open champ Rory McIlroy. Same goes for Jim Furyk, who doesn't have a victory in almost four years, yet remains four spots ahead of Martin Kaymer, who won The Players and U.S. Open.

It’s against my religion to pick on the system without a fair amount of evidence, but then, now is not the time to sweat the little stuff. We’ve finally reached the point where everything kind of matters: six premium-field events in seven weeks, plus the Ryder Cup. The closer you get to that house, the more likely you are to appreciate the landscape.


THE FIRST STOP is Firestone, home of the year’s third World Golf Championship and one of the finest tests a Tour pro will encounter. I’ve always chuckled when the South Course is referred to as “boring.” Having played it eight or 10 times in my day, I’m not at all surprised the South has proven immune to advances in equipment technology or the increased fitness factor that seemingly has everyone driving the ball 300-plus yards.

This week marks the 37th time the South has hosted an official Tour event. The last 14 were contested as part of the WGC series, and in that stretch, only twice has the winning score exceeded 15 under par. One of those instances occurred in 2000. Tiger Woods was at the absolute height of his competitive powers – he shot an astonishing 21 under to win by 11.

Adam Scott posted 17 under in 2011 and also won by a comfortable margin (four strokes). Otherwise, we’re talking eight to 12 under almost as a rule, which means the ‘Stone has certainly stood the test of time. We’re talking about a par 70 here, and that obviously has something to do with it, but when you compare the Firestone’s WGC era to the 22 tournaments before it, the difference is rather modest.

1976-98

Average winning score (under par): 7.05

Number of times single digits won: 15

Most under par: 18 (Jose Maria Olazabal in 1990)

1999-2013

Average winning score (under par): 11.35

Number of times single digits won: three

Most under par: 21 (Woods in 2000)


FURYK’S INABILITY TO hold onto a 54-hole lead has become one of the game’s more relevant (and inexplicable) stats. Tim Clark’s come-from-behind triumph in Canada was the seventh consecutive time Furyk surrendered the top spot after three rounds, all of which have occurred since his last victory at the 2010 Tour Championship.

Unlike men themselves however, not all blown leads are created equal. For all the huffing and puffing about Furyk’s fumbles in the red zone, nobody has provided much data regarding the circumstances surrounding the turnovers.

• Innisbrook (2012) – Enters the day with a share of the lead and eagles the first hole, then shoots even par the rest of the way. Furyk makes a four-man playoff, won by Luke Donald.

Accountability level: Fairly high. Furyk’s 69 was the worst score among those who finished in the top 10. Donald closed with a 66 and Robert Garrigus carded a 64 to catch him, but Retief Goosen held a 54-hole share and stumbled to a 75.

• U.S. Open (2012) – Up by two at the start of the day, Furyk bogeys three of the last six holes and loses to Webb Simpson by two.

Accountability level: Very high. The shot everyone remembers is the duck-hook off the tee at the par-5 16th. No question, it left a decorated veteran unnerved.

• Firestone (2012) – Less than two months later, a ghastly double bogey from the back-right bunker on the 72nd hole leaves Furyk one behind fellow competitor Keegan Bradley, who wins it with a birdie.

Accountability level: The highest of all. Guys with 16 career victories simply don’t do such things.

• Sea Island (2012) – The co-leader with Davis Love III, Furyk closes with a one-under 69 to finish third, two behind Tommy Gainey, who fires a 60.

Accountability level: Not very high. For God’s sake, the man who won shot a 60, although a couple more birdies wouldn’t have hurt Furyk’s cause – he made just two all day.

• PGA Championship (2013) – Furyk tees off one ahead of Jason Dufner, who closes with a 68 to win by two.

Accountability level: Not very high. A one-shot advantage means very little in a league where half the 54-hole leaders fail to win. Dufner simply outplayed Furyk.

• BMW (2013) – A two-shot lead with eight holes to play evaporates, as Furyk makes three bogeys down the stretch. Zach Johnson beats him by three.

Accountability level: Very high. Furyk made history with a second-round 59 but played the other 54 holes in just one under. Johnson (65) and runner-up Nick Watney (64) went deep. On a good day to score, Furyk didn’t. 

• Canadian Open (2014) – Furyk leads by three but falls to Tim Clark, whose final-nine 30 carries him to a one-stroke victory.

Accountability level: Fairly high. The three-stroke edge is the largest Furyk has ever forfeited, but Clark couldn’t miss with the game on the line.

So there are the details, which leads to an obvious question. Did the back-to-back, high-profile losses in the summer of 2012 lead to a domino effect that continues two years later? It’s worth noting that Furyk had one of the best seasons of his career in 2010, then had probably his worst in ’11.

You climb all the way back up the mountain, then come unglued in ugly fashion at two of the biggest events on the schedule. At that point, it’s hard to spend four hours on a critical Sunday afternoon without hearing from the demons.

“Sometimes I got outplayed, and sometimes I felt like I got in my own way,” Furyk said last Saturday night. “If it were that easy to pinpoint … if I had to pinpoint one thing, physical or mental, I’d say just putting a lot of pressure on myself and maybe trying a little too hard.”

I’ve known Furyk for a long time—he’s been one of my go-to guys for over a decade. I do think the demons are playing a role here, as he has never shot himself out of a tournament with a rough start, which is something we see quite often. His explanation for the problem is quite honest, and about as far as any self-respecting Tour pro should be willing to go.

You don’t want to bleed profusely in front of the media. Talking about it too much is far more likely to become counterproductive, so you answer the question in general terms and move on.

“I’ve been playing well and have confidence, so I really don’t need encouragement,” he said in a text Sunday night. “I’m disappointed, but I’ll be fine.”


WELCOME TO THE inaugural segment of “Going Postal,” where I handle a couple of electronically transmitted inquiries from the gallery and put my personal stamp on the reply.

Hey Hawk:

I see where Jack Nicklaus came out and said Tiger should be on the Ryder Cup team, that Watson would have to be a little nuts not to take him unless he’s playing off a 5 handicap by fall. Can you provide some insight?

R.U. Keating,

Columbus, Ohio

Sure, R.U. What’s Jack supposed to say? The matches are two months away, and besides, icons don’t ruffle the feathers of other icons. Nicklaus doesn’t need the headache. I mean, the guy has been dealing with the media for 50 years. This one was a two-footer without an inch of break.

Dear A------,

I’m sure you’ve found lots of reasons to hate the Tour’s moving the WGC-Match Play to Harding Park, right? New format, new dates, new everything. Doesn’t that fly directly in the face of your Neanderthal mentality?

Suspicious of the Vicious,

San Francisco, Calif.

Why all the venom, SOTV? This is a great move by Camp Ponte Vedra, although it comes with just a one-year commitment, which is another way of saying the Tour will gladly accept a willing title sponsor if one comes along. The World Cup-like format doesn’t register with me quite yet, but I’m sure CPV will figure it out, then change it the minute a superstar complains about “too much golf.”

Let’s face it: Dove Mountain was an anthill 20 miles south from a suburb of nowhere. No buzz, which is why Accenture finally bailed, so moving it to a vibrant metropolitan area is a good start. I’m tired of throwing haymakers at this thing. Gotta save those for the wraparound season …