Jim Furyk is once again in position to win elusive second major at British Open

July 19, 2009

TURNBERRY, Scotland — Jim Furyk is sometimes called the toughest player in golf, the golfer who Tiger Woods loves to play with in the Ryder Cup, the man with a loopy swing, a grinder’s heart, and an old soul.

In 2003, in the hothouse that was Olympia Fields near Chicago, Furyk won his only major championship at the U.S. Open, fighting back tears after he brought his round home.

Six years have passed, and no other major titles have come his way.

“Is this my best chance?” Furyk, 39, said when asked about previous British Opens that were nearly his. “I’ve had some great opportunities to win. In fact, I was probably tied for the lead in ’98 at Birkdale with about four holes to go. Whether it’s my best [chance] or not, it’s an opportunity, and you always look forward to an opportunity.”

Furyk’s opportunity is this: after a third-round 70 on Saturday that included two birdies and two bogeys, he sits at one under, three shots behind the improbable leader, 59-year-old Tom Watson, going into Sunday’s final round.

In the era of Tiger Woods, Furyk has carved out one of the most decorated resumes in the game. He has 13 PGA Tour wins, claims the No. 9 ranking in the world, and is a fixture on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams.

But there have also been shortcomings upon close inspection. His playoff record is 2-7, which means there are a handful of titles that slipped away. He hasn’t won a PGA Tour event in two years.

What Furyk does possess, however, is a backlog of good British Open memories, even though he is more identified with the U.S. Open.

In his first British Open, in 1996, he made the cut at Lytham, finishing tied for 44th. The next year, at Troon, he finished fourth.

In all, he has finished in the top 5 four times, including twice in the last three years.

“It’s nice to have that there, memories, to lean back on,” he said.

Furyk’s chief skills — accuracy and course management — have been rewarded along Turnberry’s windswept links. One of the shorter hitters on the PGA Tour, Furyk has made his living by hitting his golf ball to exact distances and trying to post a score from there.

“I did a good job of [hitting] the ball in the fairway,” Furyk said. “I did a good job of making some good saves and some good putts. I kept my round going at quite a few key moments, and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Furyk sits in an interesting place in his career, good enough to occupy the third talent rung in golf (Woods has his own level, at the top, while Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els occupy the second level), but he is not quite a Hall of Famer.

There are hundreds of players who have won at least one major, but the roster of multiple-major winners shrinks to 75.

Furyk said his even-par 70 on Saturday will give him a chance “to wake up tomorrow with a chance to win the Open.”

Once more, he’s put himself in position, a few shots from the lead but squarely in the drama. Just 18 holes stand between Furyk rising from bit player to leading man.

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