ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – This will likely stretch the boundaries of Davis Love III’s accommodating nature.
The host with the most will set out on Sunday afternoon in this idyllic slice of southern hospitality with visions of utter selfishness, the byproduct of three rounds of 66 or better on the Seaside Course and a share of the three-quarter pole lead with Jim Furyk, of all people.
Cue the screenwriters, who would struggle to conjure up a Love vs. Furyk finale at The McGladrey Classic given the events of the past few months.
Not after last month’s Ryder Cup, when Love captained America to its largest Sunday collapse and Furyk bogeyed his final two holes to drop a decisive singles match. Not after the season Furyk had, dropping decisions in heartbreaking fashion at the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
This was supposed to be a soft sendoff for both players after what can only be described as bittersweet seasons, but instead we have high drama with the two tied at 13 under and two shots clear of the field.
“This is a perfect golf course for Jim,” said Love, the McGladrey host who has paused just long enough for a short paddle board session since America’s loss at Medinah. “He’s played well and I kept saying he was real close to an all-star, hero year and (on Saturday) he came out firing.”
Furyk’s quick start included three birdies through his first six holes to build a two-stroke lead at one point, but Love rallied with a clutch birdie putt at the last to set up a showdown that few this side of Brunswick, Ga., thought possible.
Sure, Furyk figures his play this season was every bit as consistent as he was in 2010, when he won three times and the FedEx Cup; and Love knows the Seaside Course better than anyone. But as the Europeans celebrated into the Chicago evening last month it was hard to imagine such a showdown.
For 69 holes at The Olympic Club in June Furyk was at his Open best until he yanked a hybrid tee shot left of the 16th fairway and never recovered. In August at Firestone he led by two strokes through 71 holes, double bogeyed the last and lost by one stroke. And then there was the Ryder Cup, where some considered him a questionable captain’s pick. He went 1-2-0 including Sunday’s singles loss to Sergio Garcia at the height of the American collapse.
But for Furyk, who played just three rounds of golf in the two weeks since Medinah, his cup, pardon the pun, is half full.
“There are a lot of similarities between this season and 2010,” said Furyk, who has rounds of 66-65-66 this week. “I’ve put myself in contention a lot more, my scoring average is better this year (69.8 in 2010 compared to 69.4 this season).
“But the differences are pretty glaring as well. I had a chance to win three events (in 2010) and closed out each one. This year is the exact opposite. This year I’ve found a way to lose those events.”
Furyk, one of the circuit’s most thoughtful types, had no interest in turning a possible victory on Sunday at Sea Island into some sort of season salvation. That’s not possible, not after everything that has happened.
Instead, the final round is the closing chapter of a year he is glad to be done with.
“Tomorrow is an opportunity,” he said, nothing more. No cosmic make-good, no vindication for all those missed chances.
In fact neither Furyk nor Love have much interest in history, be it recent or otherwise. The Sea Island host pegged his own event as a litmus test for his game, which suffered from neglect during his two-year stint as captain.
He played solid in Las Vegas and last week’s Frys.com Open and found inspiration on the greens this week thanks a Brian Bateman’s putter and a challenge from his brother, Mark.
Following last year’s British Open Love went to his brother for putting help and Mark’s answer was “something different.” In practical terms that is Bateman’s putter, a belly version that Love allows to hover just below his shirt.
“This was my best Saturday putting for a while,” said Love, who has always been considered one of the game’s best ballstrikers but has struggled in recent years on the greens.
Through three rounds on his home course Love is second in putts per greens in regulation and, despite his accommodating nature, has embraced the role of spoiler, at least for one final round.
D.J. Trahan (66) and Arjun Atwal (69) are tied for third at 11 under and rising rookie Bud Cauley (68) is alone in fifth at 10 under, but for all practical purposes this is about Love and Furyk., longtime friends turned unlikely foes.
On his way out of the interview room Love was reminded that Furyk currently has 16 Tour titles. “I’d love to keep him from (victory No. 17),” Love said.
Hosting, it seems, does have its boundaries.
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