PITTSFORD, N.Y. – This routine has become painfully familiar to Jim Furyk – congratulating the other guy, walking to the scoring trailer while they cheer for the other guy, praising the way the other guy played.
Only this time was different.
Yes, the record books will show that Furyk held a one-shot lead heading into the final round of the 95th PGA Championship and didn’t eventually hoist the Wanamaker Trophy. They will show that he shot 71 to Jason Dufner’s 68, that he’s now broken par just once in his last 23 final rounds in a major, that his career record slipped to 9-for-22 when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
But if Furyk has learned anything over these past few winless years, it’s how to analyze disappointment.
And this time, after this PGA, he says he has no regrets.
“I played my heart out,” he said Sunday.
Of course, no one has ever questioned Furyk’s doggedness. The way he grinds each day, and drains every ounce of his ability, is equal parts admirable and exhausting. On the 16th green alone Sunday, Furyk made four practice strokes, took seven peeks at the cup, crouched five times, circled twice around the hole, conferenced with caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan, hiked up his pants, adjusted his posture and wiggled his shoulders … just to halve the hole with birdie. Each shot he is plowing through years and layers of scar tissue, which recently has accumulated at a staggering rate.
The worst stretch: Four times in 2012 he held at least a share of the lead heading into the final day. And four times he endured the same painful routine after the round.
Furyk has said that his Ryder Cup singles performance, when he dropped the final two holes to lose his match against Sergio Garcia, was his lowest point of the year. It was basement-low, no doubt, but it wasn’t his most memorable flameout. That came at last year’s U.S. Open, when the 2003 champion needed to play the last three holes (which included two par 5s) in 1 under, but instead limped to the clubhouse in 2 over par.
“I felt like that was my tournament to win,” he said, “and I wasn’t able to do it.”
Furyk didn’t lose this major, no matter that he headed to Oak Hill’s first tee with a one-shot lead.
Despite hitting just four fairways and 11 greens, he lost on this day to the better player, Dufner, who had three kick-in birdies and would have won going away if not for a few nervy plays down the stretch.
Furyk made only two birdies in the final round – his first, on the sixth, was a 40-foot bomb – and failed to put enough pressure on his opponent in the middle of the round. On Nos. 13 and 14 he had only a wedge into the green, and both times he didn’t give himself a reasonable birdie look. (“That’s kinda my forte,” he said.) He bogeyed the final two holes, when he tried desperately to play perfect shots from imperfect lies, and wound up at 8-under 272.
“I have no regrets,” he said.
The best part about Furyk is that you know he will be back in this role, challenging again, unafraid of having his heart ripped out with the world watching. He spoke of possessing a “cornerback mentality” – of getting beat, then being able to shake it off, regroup, refocus, and test himself against the world’s best once more.
“Jim is a guy you never have to worry about,” Brandt Snedeker said. “He takes every loss very, very hard. It motivates him to come back and work harder at it.
“He’s been hearing stuff his whole career about how he can’t do this or can’t do that, and the only thing he’s done is do it his whole career. I think for him it’s a motivating factor when they say he can’t do it.”
All week Furyk described this PGA as an “opportunity.” To turn around a miserable season. To atone for last year’s failures. To prove that, at age 43, he still has plenty of good golf left in his wiry frame.
Furyk played terribly in both summer Opens, the first time he’s missed consecutive cuts in a major in nearly a decade, and he vowed to play with a newfound lightness and to enjoy the journey – even if it looks like he’s adding a new wrinkle with each missed putt or errant approach.
“I think I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself and expected myself to perform, maybe to a fault, and I wasn’t able to enjoy it,” he said. “At times it’s probably affected my performance, but it also drove me to become a lot better player.”
On another major Sunday, he found himself congratulating the other guy and praising the other guy, while he was left searching for any shred of confidence in the ruins.
Funny thing, then, because after blowing another 54-hole lead, and after another close call in a major, how did Furyk feel?
“Reenergized,” he said. “It’s days like these that will make the next one sweeter.”