LAKE FOREST, Ill. – A BMW Championship win won’t erase Jim Furyk's disappointment of last month’s PGA Championship. Nor is it likely to heal the pain of being left off next month’s Presidents Cup squad, or even his Ryder Cup disappointment at nearby Medinah a year ago.
Still, winning a PGA Tour event matters. It matters a bit more in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and its magnitude is further amplified for a player who has so often been in position to claim victory, but has come up empty since the 2010 Tour Championship.
For a man with a U.S. Open trophy and a FedEx Cup title under his belt, Furyk, who takes a one-stroke lead into Sunday's final round at Conway Farms, has been largely defined across the past two years by the tournaments that have slipped through his fingers. A playoff loss in Tampa, a costly double bogey on the 72nd hole at Firestone. A snap-hooked tee shot at Olympic, and a front-row seat for Jason Dufner’s final-round clinic at Oak Hill.
A win Sunday would at least make up for some of that frustration.
“There’s always pressure to win,” Furyk said after shooting a 2-under 69 in Saturday’s third round. “I’m going to put pressure on myself because I expect myself to play well, and I expect more of myself than anyone else.”
Furyk admitted that the pressure he feels has been ratcheted up in recent years with his string of close calls, and will be an obstacle to overcome during the final round.
“It’s been three years. No one has to remind me,” he noted, referencing his most recent victory that also earned him the season-long FedEx Cup title in 2010. “That’ll be part of the mental game and the mental aspect of it tomorrow, to go out there and stay in the moment and just play golf and not really worry about it.”
Furyk can derive strength from the mental battle he won Saturday, successfully backing up his record-tying 59 with a round that allowed his name to remain atop the leaderboard in Chicago. Nevertheless, the bigger of the two challenges still lies ahead.
“Following a 59 is a breeze, man. How upset are you going to get today?” he added. “I think winning a golf tournament is obviously the tougher one.”
Should Furyk make his way into the winner’s circle Sunday, he’ll have to go through another 40-something, one who has continued to surprise even himself all season long.
“I really had no expectations,” Steve Stricker said of the approach he took entering his notably abbreviated 2013 campaign. “Really didn’t plan on playing much in the playoffs.”
Plans for vacations and elk hunting, though, can be ruined by a seemingly endless string of upper-echelon golf. After a runner-up finish at TPC Boston that earned the 46-year-old a spot on Fred Couples’ squad at Muirfield Village next month, Stricker has picked up right where he left off, standing one shot behind Furyk at Conway Farms.
“I’ve got a good balance in my life. I’m happy with what I’m doing,” noted Stricker, who appears destined for his seventh top-10 finish in just 12 starts this year after posting a Saturday 64.
Though he remains without a victory in 2013, Stricker’s season has been by most accounts an unbridled success. He is now projected to move to fourth in the overall FedEx Cup standings, and could climb further still with a victory.
“I won’t pay attention to that part so much as trying to win the tournament,” he said, eschewing, as many players have, the notion of constant number-crunching of projected FedEx Cup points. “I’m going to be paying attention to tomorrow, and then all that other stuff kind of takes care of itself.”
Still very much in contention is a man who knows a little something about FedEx Cup math – Brandt Snedeker. Last season’s overall champion struggled somewhat on the greens Saturday, taking 29 putts en route to an even-par 71 after needing just 48 to complete the first 36 holes. Still, at 11 under and just two shots behind Furyk’s lead, the 32-year-old will try for his third victory of the 2013 season, as he looks to further position himself for a second consecutive season-long crown.
“You’re going to have a bad day,” noted Snedeker. “To be able to survive today the way I did gives me a lot of confidence going into tomorrow.”
Lurking, of course, is world No. 1 Tiger Woods, who continues to attempt to rebound from Friday’s still-controversial two-shot penalty. His 5-under 66 Saturday was his second such score this week at Conway Farms, and should he replicate – or even surpass – that total during the final round, he may leave Chicago with his sixth trophy of the season, one that would undoubtedly relieve some potential headaches that could arise from PGA Tour officials should Woods ultimately finish one or two shots short.
Though several players enter Sunday’s final round with trophy in sight, the heat of the spotlight remains on Furyk in his quest to stem a string of near-misses with a single victory that will allow him to head toward the 2013-14 season with hard-earned momentum.
He acknowledged Saturday evening that the round of golf he has yet to play will be a difficult one.
“It’s been awhile. I’m going to put pressure on myself,” he admitted. “That will be the struggle.”
The first step toward redemption always is.