AKRON, Ohio – What in the name of Jean Van de Velde is happening in golf?
In what is unfolding as one of the game’s cruelest years, the WGC-Bridgestone was witness Sunday to yet another painful collapse.
With Jim Furyk unraveling under pressure at the 72nd hole at Firestone Country Club, no PGA Tour season in recent memory has seemed to be in more dire need of a Heimlich maneuver.
Keegan Bradley played beautifully down the stretch Sunday, but this championship wasn’t his until Furyk gave it to him.
A shot ahead at the last hole, Furyk, a tough-as-nails veteran, took a one-shot lead to the 18th tee but hit four consecutive poor shots to make double bogey and lose by a stroke. It was yet another nasty blow for Furyk, who was wobbled just seven weeks ago when he lost a chance to win the U.S. Open with a stumble at the 70th hole at The Olympic Club
Sunday at Firestone, in the cruelest scene of all the cruel closing acts this year, Furyk staggered off the final green to see the heartache in his 9-year-old son, Tanner.
“I walked over, and my boy is crying right after the round,” Furyk said.
Tanner, and his older sister, Caleigh, were also there in the end of that crushing U.S. Open defeat with their mother, Jim’s wife, Tabitha.
“I guess it reminds you as an adult, as a parent, that you have to act the proper way,” Furyk said. “You have to do and say the right things to try to give the right lessons.”
Furyk, a 16-time PGA Tour winner, nobly stood up to all the questions in the end and did his best to make sense of the crazy game he plays.
“I’m still a little in shock,” said Furyk, 42, as he left the scoring trailer. “I’m stunned. I can’t quite fathom what I just did.”
A 54-hole lead is almost becoming a curse on the PGA Tour. Just 10 players have closed out 54-hole leads with a victory in 33 PGA Tour events this year.
Two weeks ago, Adam Scott blew a chance to win the British Open closing with four consecutive bogeys.
In January, Kyle Stanley blew a three-shot lead at the 72nd hole to lose the Farmers Insurance Open.
A week later, Stanley won when Spencer Levin lost a six-shot lead in the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Then there was Furyk’s back-nine failure at the U.S. Open. Though that defeat cost him winning his second major championship, Furyk seemed more bewildered and gutted by what happened at Firestone.
“I’ve lost some tournaments in pretty poor fashion, but I don’t think I’ve ever let one nearly as bad as this one,” Furyk said. “This was my worst effort to finish off an event.”
Bradley, 26, a three-time PGA Tour winner with a major and World Golf Championship on his resume, deserves credit, and Furyk said as much.
Despite an awful, plugged lie in the sand beside the 18th green, Bradley thumped a bunker shot to 15 feet, about the best he could do from that lie. With Furyk struggling, needing two shots to get out of the rough right of the green, Bradley found himself over a 15-foot putt that he knew would at least force a playoff.
Bradley buried the putt with that belly putter of his. He buried it looking like he relished the pressure.
“I was reading this putt, and I kept telling myself that this is the exact moment that I live for, that you grow up your whole life wanting, and I’m living it,” Bradley said. “I didn’t think for a second I was going to miss it. It was unbelievable.”
That’s what Furyk was thinking when he was finished, too. He couldn’t believe the calamity of errors he put himself through at the final hole. There was a pulled tee shot into a tree, which fortuitously bounced out in the fairway. There was the hard 7-iron that didn’t draw and bounced into heavy rough right of the green. There was his fluffed slash, a pitch that never reached the green, and then another misplayed chip that left him needing to make a 5-foot putt for bogey.
After Bradley holed his par save, Furyk had to make his putt to force a playoff. He jabbed it hard and clumsily to the right, never coming close to the hole.
“It was a pretty disappointing putt,” Furyk said. “It was awful, to be honest.”
Furyk showed class handling this loss, a brutal defeat in a summer of brutal finishes for 54-hole leaders.
With Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course offering a potentially torturous finish at next week’s PGA Championship, this cruel, cruel summer may be far from over.