Newsmaker of the Year No. 8: Jim Furyk

By Ryan LavnerDecember 14, 2012, 3:00 pm

Think about it this way: Jim Furyk was three swings away from being a player-of-the-year candidate.

No, really.

If his tee shot on 16 at Olympic hadn’t been sniped into the trees . . .  

If his tee shot on 18 at Firestone had just caromed off the trees and stayed in the woods, necessitating a chip-out on his way to a two-putt bogey . . .

If his tee shot on 17 at Medinah had just found the green . . .

If that had happened, if he could have three mulligans, if he could re-do those three swings, then, well, the tone of this Newsmaker would have been decidedly different, no?

Newsmaker No. 10: Stacy Lewis | No. 9 PGA Tour

Instead, Furyk’s 2012 season was the most torturous of his 20-year pro career. It was a dizzying campaign replete with gut-wrenching disappointments – the type of season that, if not treated with the proper amount of antiseptic, could create more scars than a slasher film.

This, after all, is a proud man who has won 16 times on the PGA Tour, who has captured a major, who sits fourth on the all-time money list ($52,719,459), who has been one of the best players of his generation and who has been of the game’s great overachievers and who has for years – nay, decades – been lauded for his plodding style and gritty demeanor.

But even Furyk can endure only so much self-inflicted abuse. He played only one official event after the Ryder Cup, and told reporters at The McGladrey Classic: “I’m excited for this season to be over, only for the fact that I can turn the page and we can start talking about the future.”

If only.

In this, the Year of the Collapse – or, depending on your perspective, the Year of the Comeback – Furyk’s high-profile crash-and-burns were among the most unforgettable. 

Tied for the lead on the 70th hole at the U.S. Open, thisclose to capturing his second national championship, Furyk hit a ghastly snap-hook on the par-5 16th (the first of consecutive three-shotters), which was playing 100 yards shorter during the final round. His tee ball flew deep into the woods, and he eventually made bogey to lose the tournament. “I don’t know how to put this one into words,” he said in San Francisco, “but I had my opportunities and my chances and it was right there.”

That T-4 stung, no doubt, but an even more crippling loss came less than two months later, at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Two shots ahead as he played the par-4 18th at Firestone, Furyk’s tee shot ricocheted off the trees and (at the time, fortunately) came to rest in the fairway . . . yet he still managed to card a double-bogey 6 and lose by one to Keegan Bradley. “I have no one to blame but myself,” he said then. “But when things go wrong, it’s an empty feeling.”

Those highly publicized collapses still fresh, and in the midst of election season, Furyk’s game was analyzed from every angle – Had his putter finally abandoned him? Were his nerves frayed? – as he became one of Davis Love III’s most controversial captain’s selections for the Ryder Cup. Later, a reporter would ask Furyk if he felt compelled to try and justify the pick at Medinah. His response: “If I really cared what the critics thought the last 19 years, I wouldn’t be here.”

Which leads to the Ryder Cup. Squaring off against Sergio Garcia in Sunday singles, in a match the Americans absolutely needed to swing back momentum, Furyk kicked away a 1-up lead with back-to-back bogeys on 17 and 18. The enduring image of Furyk on the final hole – bent over, hands on his knees, a stunned look on his face – was splashed on the cover of a leading golf magazine. It epitomized that frenetic Sunday, the Americans’ meltdown, Furyk’s season, all of it. “It’s the lowest point of my year,” he would say afterward.

You could make the argument that at least Furyk, who turns 43 next May, was still competitive, still in position to win tournaments, and that would be true. The Tour’s Player of the Year just two years ago, he rebounded from a dismal 2011 to at least generate reasons for optimism: This season he had two runners-up, eight top 10s, more than $3.6 million earned.

But there was that one glaring omission, of course: zero wins. That is what resonates still, even though Furyk was tantalizingly close – three swings – from a player-of-the-year-caliber season.

“You get your tail kicked in this game a lot, and I think it makes the good times sweeter,” he said recently. “If you want to be successful, you’re going to have to bounce back. You’re going to have to learn to accept defeat in this game. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have to like it, but you’re going to have to learn to accept it and be tough about it and come back better the next time.” 

Newsmaker of the Year schedule
No. 10: Stacy Lewis
No. 9: PGA Tour
No. 8: Jim Furyk
No. 7: Dec. 16
No. 6: Dec. 19
No. 5: Dec. 21
No. 4: Dec. 23
No. 3: Dec. 26
No. 2: Dec. 28
No. 1: Dec. 31

Getty Images

Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

Getty Images

Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

Getty Images

Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

Getty Images

Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”