JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Jim Furyk has been mired in one of the worst slumps of his career and with a few swings Saturday, all the bad feelings came rushing back.
Furyk dumped his tee shot in the pond on the par-3 15th and two more balls in the water at the brutal 18th hole, taking a pair of double bogeys that put a severe crimp in his hopes at the PGA Championship.
On Moving Day, he was going the wrong way. Furyk struggled home with a 3-over 73, giving up five shots on the final five holes and going from a contender for the lead to a half-dozen strokes behind heading into the final round.
He didn’t speak with the media afterward, but his body language said it all. After his second ball went into the water, Furyk’s knees buckled and he bent over as if he’d been punched in the stomach. He put his hands behind his head and stared at the ground, knowing his good play much of the week was largely undone by the brutal finish.
But things are looking up for the golfer who won the PGA the last time it was played at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2001.
David Toms went out early and posted a 65 for the best round of the day. He got rolling with a long eagle putt at the 12th, birdied the next two holes, and then rolled in a 15-foot birdie at the 18th – the same hole that would bite Furyk – after just clearing the water with his approach.
Toms will head into Sunday five shots behind surprising co-leaders Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner.
ldquo;Obviously it will take a great round,” Toms said. “But you never know. I mean, that was the goal of the day was to have a good round. I didn’t know it was going to be a great round.”
Toms is having a career renaissance at age 44, winning for the first time in five years, finishing second at the Players Championship and coming into the year’s final major off a strong ninth-place finish in the World Golf Championship earlier this month.
ldquo;I just wanted to have a good round to give myself a chance,” he said. “Now, if I can have one of those days (on Sunday), I certainly will be in the mix.”
Toms wasn’t the only one moving in the right direction. Barely noticed, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel surged into contention for his second major title of the year with a 66. He was steady as they come, staying away from bogeys, making birdies on the two par-5s and mixing in two more birdies to become a final-round factor.
Like Toms, the South African faces a five-stroke deficit on Sunday.
If he can post another 66, who knows?
ldquo;The first two days there were too many bogeys and double bogeys,” Schwartzel said. “I managed to prevent those.”
He did a much better job on the last four holes, one of the toughest finishing stretches in major championship history. After playing those holes at a combined 5 over the first two rounds, Schwartzel was 1 under Saturday – making a birdie at the 15th, taking advantage of a par-3 hole that was moved up to 223 yards, and closing with three straight pars.
ldquo;Some of the toughest holes I’ve played,” he said. “Those last four holes are going to decide this golf tournament.”
Furyk wouldn’t argue with that, especially with the way he staggered to the end.
Maybe it was only appropriate. He hasn’t finished higher than ninth this year, had missed the cut in five of nine events before Atlanta and is down to 25th in the world rankings.
Furyk’s slide caught everyone off guard, given that he was coming off a 2010 season with a career-best three victories, including the year-ending Tour Championship.
At least he’s closer to the PGA lead than Rory McIlroy.
The U.S. Open champion came into Atlanta as the favorite, but his hopes of winning a second major as a 22-year-old were largely snuffed out on his third hole of the week, when he foolishly chose to strike a shot off a tree root and injured his right wrist.
McIlroy played on, coming into Saturday eight shots off the lead and still believing he could contend.
Those hopes are over after a 74 left him 14 shots behind Steele and Dufner.
ldquo;It was another frustrating day,” McIlroy said. “I need something really good to finish in the top 20 or top 30. I want to try and do that.”