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After 65, don't bet against Jim Furyk

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Jim Furyk was in his PGA Championship post-round happy place -- thank you, 5-under-par 65 -- when someone mentioned the O-word.

O, as in Olympic Club. As in the 2012 U.S. Open. As in: "Oh, no."

Remember? Furyk was in perfect position to win last year's Open, and then his final round cartwheeled over a cliff and burst into flames. Since then, he's gone black ops and disappeared in the majors: two missed cuts this year and no finish higher than a tie for 25th in the past five.

So you can understand why Furyk had to engage the Debbie Downer deflector shields when asked about his majors struggles.

"I'm on a nice little high, but y'all are trying to bring me down," Furyk said. "Damn."

You'd be on a nice little high, too, if you shot your best opening round in a PGA Championship and co-led with reigning Masters champion Adam Scott after Day 1. Or if you came within one shot of tying the Oak Hill Country Club competitive course record and one shot from tying your lowest score in a major.

But it is hard to ignore what's happened to the 43-year-old Furyk since the meltdown last June. The former U.S. Open champion blew a Sunday lead at the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, was part of Team USA's Ryder Cup collapse and this year has had a hate-hate relationship with his driver and putter.

"No wonder you guys are on that side [of the interview room]," Furyk said as he playfully chided the media Thursday. "You have bad thoughts too often."

Or long memories.

Furyk has a long history of grinding his way onto leaderboards. But it was fair to wonder -- just wonder, nothing more -- if Furyk would get another chance like the one he had at Olympic. After all, it's hard to recover after dropping the winning Powerball ticket down the garbage disposal.

Beginning with this year's Masters and ending with the Open, Furyk's game was often a mess. You didn't know whether to look away or send a condolence card.

There was the T-25 at Augusta, the missed cuts at the Players Championship, the U.S. Open (a 79 in Round 2) and the Open (a 78 in Round 1). And for the year he's had only four rounds in the 60s on tournament Sundays.

But here he was on Thursday, in contention, in the media center, in a smiley-face mood.

"Usually disappointed with ending the day on a bogey, but, you know, 65, the PGA, is not so bad," Furyk said. "So feeling pretty good about today."

Sure he is. Of course, it helps that he's finished ninth in each of his past two tournaments, the RBC Canadian Open and the WGC-Bridgestone.

"He's been showing signs of turning it around," his longtime caddie, Mike Cowan, said. "But I'm not going to get wound up over one good round of golf."

Cowan and Furyk understand that Thursday isn't the same as Sunday. But you could tell from the extended post-round handshake and quickie man-hug between player and caddie that this 65 meant something.

It wasn't just the score, but the way he got the score. Furyk and his putter blew kisses to each other the entire day. He sank the kind of putts that put hair on your chest, those 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-footers that save or lose rounds.

Furyk has missed those kinds of putts for large chunks of the season. No wonder someone asked if he had ever worried about getting his putting touch back.

"On a scale of one to 10 -- one [being] I wasn't worried, and 10 I was really worried?" Furyk said. "I'll give it a zero. How's that?"

That's quintessential Furyk. Polite, but determined. He isn't in a hurry to become a golf afterthought. He takes it personally when people dismiss his game and his chances.

"He's always been a grind-it kind of guy," Cowan said.

Furyk is easy to root for because he never makes excuses. When he stinks it up, he doesn't blame anyone or anything else for the golf odor. When he plays well, as he did Thursday, he enjoys the moment.

"Trust me, I'll be in a good mood the rest of today," he said. "But I'm wise enough and been there enough that it's only Thursday. Right now, we are jockeying for position."

For the first time since June 2012, Furyk is one of those guys doing the jockeying in a major. He got some medium-sized breaks Thursday (a wisp of wind, rain-softened greens and fairways, a morning tee time, a hot putter) and took advantage of them.

Maybe he goes away on Friday. Or maybe we see him late Sunday afternoon, the Wannamaker Trophy within reach.

I think he sticks around. And if it happens, there will be no bringing him down this time. Just imagine, Furyk the 60-1 PGA Championship long shot, with a chance to deep-six those O-word memories.

Damn.