Furyk quietly grinds his way into contention

Saturday July 19th, 2008
Furyk is at two over par.
Dave Thompson/AP

SOUTHPORT, England — While Camilo Villegas was making five birdies in a row to finish his back nine, Jim Furyk, playing in the same group, was doing exactly what he always does. Hanging around and grinding.

Playing in his 13th British Open, Furyk has posted a pair of 71s and looks poised to stay in contention heading into the weekend.

"At the beginning of my career I was a low-ball hitter," he said Friday. "So I always thought that the British Open would be my best shot to win a major."

Furyk finished fourth at both Royal Troon in 1997 and here at Royal Birkdale in 1998. His first six wins on the PGA Tour were also in places known to feel a stiff breeze (Hawaii, Florida and Las Vegas).

But in order to compete and win on the PGA Tour, Furyk said he worked on hitting his shots higher, landing them softer and spinning the ball more. Those qualities don't translate well to links golf courses, where wind and rain send shots off line. So it should come as no surprise that Furyk missed the cut at the British Open every year between 2001 and 2005.

With his father as his coach, and one of the most unique swings in golf, Furyk was ranked as high as second in the world in 2006 and 2007. When he was on, he combined accuracy off the tee and from the fairway, with marksman-like putting. He was the Dirty Harry of golf — quiet, confident, a guy you'd want watching your back.

But at Birkdale, he's continued a recent trend of so-so work with the flat stick. Furyk needed 33 putts to get around Thursday and 30 on Friday. And in majors, he's missed some biggies. Furyk would have forced a playoff at Winged Foot with Geoff Ogilvy but missed a 6-footer on the final hole, and his miss on the 17th to save par at Oakmont last year cost him a chance at tying Angel Cabrera.

"I really got off to a poor start yesterday with the putter, three-putted a bunch early, missed a couple of short ones," he said Friday. "But by the end of the round I knocked in some good putts, played well down the stretch and felt a lot more relaxed out there with the putter in my hand. And I hit a lot of good, solid putts today."

Furyk is known for his toughness and grit, and he'll need all the fortitude he can muster in these conditions. As hot as Villegas was today, Furyk knows that patience is going to be crucial this weekend. "Just as quick as you can make five birdies in row out here, you can make five bogeys in a row, too," he said.

It's hard to imagine Furyk making five bogeys in a row, even under the harsh conditions expected Saturday. If his putter can find just a little bit of the sparkle it had not so long ago, Furyk may indeed win the British Open title he thought he'd have already.

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