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Monday Scramble: Emotional week in the golf world

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Jim Furyk gets off the schneid, Jordan Spieth keeps his word, Sei Young Kim walks off, a new era in golf apparently starts and more in this drought-busting edition of the Monday Scramble: 

These were the best possible circumstances for Jim Furyk to break through for his first victory, anywhere, in nearly 55 months: (1) He has a love affair with Harbour Town, where he already had a win and six other top-10s; (2) He trailed by four shots heading into the final round, which was ideal, because he has failed to win each of the last nine times he held or shared the lead after 54 holes; and (3) He entered the Heritage with no top-40s in his last three starts, so he had lower expectations.

All of that was working in his favor, and he still needed 11 birdies in 20 holes to nail down his first title since the 2010 Tour Championship. It’s only fitting, his sterling play barely being enough, because nothing has come easy for the soon-to-be 45-year-old. He has developed so many scars over the past few years that he could star in a slasher film, and, he conceded, "I was getting to the point where losing hurts a lot more than winning feels good."

But you can’t help but admire his persistence. It took four-and-a-half years of frustration, a perfect combination of events and a near-flawless 63 to nab win No. 17. How sweet that must feel. 

1. Jim Furyk is too proud to admit it, of course. 

“I always did feel like I was going to win a tournament again,” he said Sunday. “I believed that in my heart.”

But deep down there had to be serious doubts. He turns 45 in a few weeks. He is bunting it 272 yards on oversized courses against fearless kids who are bigger, stronger, faster. He’s been battered over the past few years, because after winning with regularity, he has found new and interesting ways to come out on the losing end. He has played well and lost. He has played poorly and lost. He has played OK and lost.

And for 54 profitable but ultimately unsatisfying months, he never complained. It’s been an exhausting journey for fans, all those close calls, so we can only imagine the toll it took on Furyk's psyche. 

Since his last victory, he had:  

  • 99 starts
  • 7 runners-up
  • 16 top-fives
  • 31 top-10s
  • $14.8 million in earnings

That's a nice résumé, but it lacked the one thing this aging warrior coveted most: wins. 

2. And so, when that 12-footer dropped on the second extra hole to beat a game Kevin Kisner, there was lot of that pent-up frustration:

3. He was a good bet even before he surged to victory Sunday at Harbour Town, but now Furyk can begin preparing his World Golf Hall of Fame enshrinement speech. 

For years the accepted (and unofficial) benchmark was 20 Tour wins including a major, but recent inductees Fred Couples (15 and one) and Colin Montgomerie (31 Euro Tour wins but no majors or Ws in the U.S.) have lowered the standard for admission.

Why is Furyk a (deserving) lock? He played his entire career in the era of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and to this point he has scratched out 17 wins and a major, the 2003 U.S. Open. And he's one of the greatest overachievers in the game's long history, not just because of his unorthodox swing, but because he's playing small ball in an age of bench-pressing bombers.

He turns 45 next month, and he’s unlikely to reach 20 wins. No matter. This long-awaited title all but made him a cinch for the Hall. 

4. You wouldn’t blame Jordan Spieth if he had his agent call the RBC Heritage tournament director and say, “Hey, sorry, don’t know if you noticed, but my 21-year-old client just won the Masters. You probably saw it, right? All those records? Yeah, well, anyway, he’s not going to make it to your little stop in Hilton Head. Dude did 25 interviews in, like, three hours. Not happening.”

You wouldn't blame Spieth if after a first-round 74 he’d blamed his weary legs or his whirlwind media tour, if he'd said, “Um, hello? Did you see me play a practice round this week? Didn’t think so. I’m tired, man.”

You wouldn’t blame Spieth if he missed the cut by a mile and then, when asked what he was going to do next, replied, “Go into a coma and wake up next Wednesday.” 

Except Spieth didn’t do that. The day after a sluggish opening round, he shot a career-low-tying 62, energized the sleepy post-Masters event and eventually tied for 11th. It was only the third time in his last 13 worldwide events that he finished outside the top 10, but it was one of his best performances.

The 21-year-old earned a lot of respect from his sponsors, fans and peers not just by showing up last week on Hilton Head, but also by clawing his way back into contention. It was a pro move, honoring his commitment, not making excuses, continuing to grind. Props.

5. Speaking of Spieth’s schedule … he’s not playing this week’s Zurich Classic, but if he sticks to his usual workload he’ll have 14 events in 18 weeks. Yes, he’s 21. Yes, he plays golf for a living and it could be so much worse. Yes, he tends to perform better on the back-end of long runs. Yes, he made 27 starts a year ago. But that’s A LOT of golf leading up to the U.S. Open, and the calendar doesn’t exactly quiet down with the Open-Quicken-Bridgestone-PGA-FedEx-Presidents Cup slate upcoming. Plus, he has more off-the-course responsibilities than ever before. (Here he is Sunday night, after the final round of the Heritage, presenting at the Academy of Country Music Awards.

Keep in mind: Of the last six Masters champions, only Adam Scott (2013) had two top-10s in the other three majors. There’s an adjustment period for everyone.

6. The Heritage is a favorite among Tour types because of the event’s mellow, laid-back vibe. Nothing gets some struggling players back in the mood like a quick trip to Hilton Head: 

  • Jim Furyk: After blowing the lead at Pebble, he had gotten progressively worse over his last three starts, going 40-58-MC. A perfect landing spot – this was his fourth top-10 (and second win) there since 2010.
  • Matt Kuchar: Mr. Consistency has had a quiet year until he arrived at Harbour Town for his title defense. After a T-2 at the Humana, he didn’t have a top-10 in his last six starts, an eternity for one of the best week-in, week-out performers on Tour. A solo fifth has him back on track.
  • Luke Donald: The former world No. 1’s form has sagged over the past few years, but it doesn't matter once he turns up at the RBC (five top-threes from 2009-14). He tied for 15th this year – only his second top-35 in his last 19 Tour starts.
  • Graeme McDowell: The 2013 winner, G-Mac shared the first-round lead after a 66, then followed it up with a Friday 69. Those were his first rounds in the 60s in an official PGA Tour event since Nov. 6-7. He tied for 26th

7. Birdie Kim. Craig Parry. Boo Weekley. Jonathan Byrd. Matt Jones. Matt Kuchar. Sei Young Kim. What does this eclectic group have in common? Not much, other than they are among the few players who have won a tournament recently by holing out on the final hole.

Kim’s heroics at the Lotte Championship were particularly memorable. After finding the water with her tee shot on the 72nd hole, she chipped in for par just to get into the playoff against world No. 3 Inbee Park. In overtime, Kim's 8-iron shot from 154 yards landed on the front of the green, hopped a few times and dove into the hole for an improbable eagle-2 and playoff victory over one of her idols. This is the same woman who capped her first victory earlier this year in the Bahamas with a birdie on the first playoff hole against two other players. She's cold-blooded. 

8. So, according to Sports Illustrated, the Rory Era lasted a total of 1,393 days. Man, time flies when you're winning tournaments!

Surely you remember this, when McIlroy appeared on the June 27, 2011 cover, after his record-breaking win at the U.S. Open:

Well, Jordan Spieth is now on the cover, after his remarkable wire-to-wire win at Augusta, along with this all-too-familiar headline:

Is it a stretch to say that this is the “Spieth Era”? At this point, yes. Very much so. (Trust me: I used to work at a golf magazine and realize hyperbole tends to make for better headlines. In a related note, this Mike Weir headline, from 2003, is pure gold.) Sure, he’s young, he’s American, he’s thoughtful and he’s a heck of a player, but if you’re asking whose new five years will be better, Rory or Jordan, well, you’re likely going to side with the guy who hits it 330 and straight. Lest you forgot, about two weeks ago we were bracing for a 25-year-old to capture the career Grand Slam and win his third major in a row. He’s not going anywhere. 

Together, though, McIlroy and Spieth have set the foundation for a compelling decade-long rivalry between two likable stars with wildly different games. Now that’s an era that makes sense. It has the potential to be golden. 

9. Bubba Watson spent a lot of time in the dark last week in China. He posted videos on a nightly basis of various trick shots at Genzon Golf Club’s neighboring lit course.

This shot was pretty cool …

... but maybe Bubba should have spent more time in the light. And on the practice putting green. He made hardly anything over the first three days before a final-round 65 helped salvage a top-30 finish against a weak European Tour field. Oh, to be a former Masters champion who is well compensated to play in China … 

10. Fun fact: It's a 22-hour flight from Orlando, Fla., to Shenzhen. Which is plenty of time for Bubba to pen the follow-up to his cameo on a new Christian rap record. Our apologies in advance. 

11. This is easily the best 37-second clip of the year: An oblivious fan trudges into the water to retrieve what is probably a $10 hat from Dick’s Sporting Goods and then – most importantly – loses his beer out of his side pocket. Finally, he catches a face full of dirt as he stumbles into the grass. Classic! 


HELP WANTED: Edoardo Molinari should be looking for a new caddie this week. Not only did his looper take a cart to catch up after he fell behind the group – an obvious two-shot penalty – but then he didn’t even notify his boss of the mistake, leaving him open to a WD after he signed his card at the European Tour event. Hey, maybe he didn’t know it was against the rules?, you ask. If that’s truly the case, if he didn’t know that he was doing anything wrong, if he thought it was OK for him or any other caddie to get back into position by using a cart, then he should have been dumped a while ago. That’s Professional Golf 101. Common sense. Don’t ax the guy for one careless mistake. Ax him because of sheer stupidity. 

This week’s award winners … 

Do You Recognize This Man?: Probably not, but it's Stuart Appleby. He's on the mend from back surgery, but aparently there's a very good reason Stuie looks like he's auditioning for the 83rd season of "Survivor". This little mix-up:

The Farewell Tour Continues: Tom Watson. The 65-year-old is already making his last Open appearance this year at St. Andrews. Now, he hinted that he’d make next year’s Masters his last, after going 71-81 and missing the cut for the – gulp – 16th time in 18 years. He’s having a hard enough time keeping up with Bernhard Langer, let alone Bubba Watson.

Random Dagger: Kuchar, when asked about fellow competitor Spieth: “I may be older, but we have similar hairlines.”

Job Security: Kevin Kisner. That $637,200 paycheck at Harbour Town was a much-needed boost for Kisner, who has now secured his playing privileges for next season. It’s the first time in the 31-year-old’s career that he will earn his card in back-to-back seasons without the aid of Q-School. His $1.03 million in earnings is already a career high, and it should alleviate some of the pressure of having to play 25-plus events in a desperate attempt to crack the top 125. 

'Bout Time: Branden Grace. It took 35 starts, but he finally has a top 10 on the PGA Tour (T-7 at the Heritage). Those nine pro titles at the age of 26 are swell, but they don’t mean much if he’s not beating the best competition. 

Go On, Big Fella: Kiradech Aphibarnrat. The Barn Rat earned his second European Tour title Sunday, and the guy sure knows how to celebrate.

Chatterbox: Jordan Spieth. Check out this epic mash-up of the full-blown conversations between Spieth and his golf ball during the final round of the Masters.

(Not) Another Day at the Beach: Belen Mozo. Does anyone care that she only has one round in the 60s this year? Didn’t think so.  

Plenty in the past 25 years, actually. One of the best ever was Byrd’s walk-off ace in Vegas. A hole-in-one to win a playoff – come on, it’s tough to top that. But Sei Young Kim’s theatrics rank right up there with Robert Gamez’s approach at Bay Hill, and Parry’s dunk at Doral, and Kim’s bunker blast to steal the Women’s Open. Extend the search a few more years, and there was Larry Mize and Bob Tway walking off in the majors. Kim's is likely the finish of the year, but the most exciting all time? There are plenty of contenders for that title. 

At first I thought this question was a joke – Furyk is a terrible closer! He’s mangled his last nine chances! 

Dig a little deeper, though, and Furyk was 9-for-14 before this recent skid. That’s a very respectable 64 percent. This year alone, only six 54-hole leaders/co-leaders have gone on to win in the 23 PGA Tour events (26 percent). 

But if you had to pick one guy to close out a tournament, would Furyk really be anywhere near the top of your list? No chance. Rory is the world’s best; you'd take your chances with him. Spieth is playing better than anyone. DJ has game-changing length and the third-best final-round scoring average on Tour (68.2). Phil plays his best when the pressure is at its highest. We’ve seen too much carnage in the past few years to blindly trust Furyk.