AKRON, Ohio (AP) – Jim Furyk went from a bunker to the right of the 10th fairway at Firestone to another bunker short of the green, leaving a difficult shot that he blasted out some 8 feet by the hole for an even tougher putt to save his par because of how it broke sharply to the right.
He made the putt, which was as satisfying as some of the birdies he made Friday on his way to the lowest 36-hole score of his career and a two-shot lead going into the weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Furyk is not the longest hitter, though he's long enough and atones for it by being straight. No one ever questions the quality of his iron play. His fortunes depend largely on how well he putts, and that explains why he had his worst full season a year ago since his rookie year on tour.
“I putted horrible last year,'' Furyk said.
It was so bad that he even tried a belly putter, an experiment that lasted about a month. He found something in his stroke that he took Down Under to the lightening quick of Royal Melbourne and won all five of his matches in the Presidents Cup.
“In my career, that's probably my best putting event of my career,'' he said.
Even though Furyk hasn't won this year, it has carried over. He lost in a playoff in Tampa. He was tied for the lead in the U.S. Open until a snap hook from a shorter tee on the 16th hole led to a bogey, a lost shot he couldn't make up over the last two holes. In both cases, he was putting on fast greens.
And that might explain what he's doing at 11-under 129, two shots clear of Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain, another shot ahead of Louis Oosthuizen, and a whopping 13 shots ahead of Tiger Woods, a seven-time champion at Firestone.
Yes, Furyk came to Ohio in a bit of the doldrums, though he attributed some of that to the greens. They were slow at Greenbrier, where he missed the cut. The greens are always on the slow side in links golf, particularly a British Open that is green from so much rain. And he missed the cut at the rain-soaked Canadian Open.
“I'm more comfortable on fast greens like we're seeing this week,'' he said.
Woods isn't comfortable at all.
Nothing spelled out his frustrations quite like the seventh hole, his 16th of the round on Friday. He hit a tee shot on the par 3 that covered the flag and settled just inside 5 feet from the cup. He missed the birdie putt. Then, he missed the next one. Three putts from inside 5 feet for a bad bogey.
The rest of his round wasn't much better, and he wound up with a 72 to head into the weekend at 2-over 142. It's his highest score to par since he went 72-75 at the Masters and was 3-over par.
There was really nothing to say, and for a short time, no one did. Woods stood before a microphone looking out at a dozen reporters, waiting for a question, until one of them suggested that he comment on his round and everyone will go to lunch.
“OK, sweet,'' Woods said, playing along. “I hit it good, made nothing, and we can all go eat now.''
What followed was more queries, trying to get to the bottom of why the guy who used to make everything can't make hardly anything now. Putting has been dogging Woods since the late winter, when he couldn't buy a putt at Pebble Beach, and two weeks later lost in the second round of the Match Play Championship when his 5-foot putt to extend the match never even hit the hole.
Then again, Woods has won three times this year on the PGA Tour, more than any other player. Life is not that bad.
It just hasn't been a good week, and there have been a few of those.
“I get in these little spells where it's hot or cold,'' Woods said. “Generally, I was a decent putter over the years, but lately it's been very streaky. I'm making everything or I make nothing. … I'm playing well. I'm hitting it well. I'm making nothing. Certainly, I didn't hit it good enough to be 11-under par, but I certainly hit it good enough to be right there in the top five going into the weekend, no problem at all.''
Those spots – the players chasing Furyk – belong to others.
Cabrera-Bello is getting used to these big events – this is his third World Golf Championship of the of the year, and next week will be his third major – and he pieced together a 65 in the morning, on two occasions tied for the lead.
Oosthuizen, a delight to watch with that effortless swing, ran off a 65 and was three shots behind. Jason Dufner overcame a late mistake for a 66 and was four shot behind, with K.T. Kim of South Korea (67) another shot behind.
Luke Donald and David Toms were six shots back. That seems like a lot against Furyk, especially the way he has been playing, though Furyk had one eye on the forecast. A little wind could make Firestone a little more fiery and firm. Perhaps some rain is due by Sunday, which might make it play longer.
For now, he's right where he wants to be – atop the leaderboard with a shot at his first win of the year, and in dire need of a good result going into the PGA Championship, the final qualifying event for the Ryder Cup. Furyk is at No. 15. He can't break into the automatic eight even after a win, but it would all but lock him up as a captain's pick. He has not missed a Ryder Cup since his debut in 1997.