Furyk endures tough Firestone loss

AKRON, Ohio -- They were there to celebrate a victory, one with prestigious and redemptive qualities, one that would have stamped a good year a great one for Jim Furyk, who was on the verge of his first World Golf Championship title.

Instead it became a scene of sorrow just beside the 18th green. Furyk's wife, Tabitha, and their children Caleigh and Tanner, went from smiles to sadness.

One moment dad is about to win the Bridgestone Invitational. The next he is blowing the tournament in spectacular fashion, making double-bogey at the home hole to gift the tournament to Keegan Bradley, whose final-round 64 was impressive but should not have been enough for a third career victory.

Tanner Furyk, who was born just after his dad's 2003 U.S. Open victory, was in tears as his dad exited the green, the sight probably as painful for the father as the defeat itself.

Golf is a cruel game, the losses more frequent than the victories. Pain is prevalent, gratification fleeting, and that has never been more on display this summer.

The Bridgestone makes three straight big-tournament winners who never led the event while they still had shots to play. It seems best these days to lurk, make a move and let the other guy falter.

U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Open Championship winner Ernie Els and now Bridgestone Invitational victor Bradley were never in sole possession of the lead until after they could no longer do anything about it.

Amazing, really.

"I've known it's a cruel game for a long time," Furyk said afterward, admittedly still stunned. "I feel bad for what happened to Adam [Scott, who finished second to Els], but I think it doesn't affect you when it's not you.

"So I go back to the U.S. Open and the chances I had there, coming in tied with three holes to play, and played poorly the last three holes. And here I led the golf tournament the entire way and lost it on the very last hole.

"I've lost some tournaments in some pretty poor fashions, but I don't think I've let one ever slip away as bad as this one. This was my worst effort to finish off an event."

In the aftermath, Furyk, 42, was a standup guy. The winner of 16 PGA Tour events but none since the 2010 Tour Championship, he faced three sets of television and radio interviews before taking questions from print reporters. He admitted the gravity of it all had yet to hit him.

He has been through it before, and the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club -- where he was the 54-hole leader and still tied on the 16th tee, only to bogey two of the last three -- was certainly a difficult blow, too.

But that day, Furyk didn't have it. He failed to make a birdie and did well to hang in until the end, still with a chance to tie if he could birdie the 18th.

Here, Furyk appeared in complete control. He shot rounds of 63-66 to open the tournament, then a third-round 70 had him a stroke ahead of Louis Oosthuizen starting the day. Bradley, who will defend his PGA Championship title this week, was four shots back and six behind with 13 holes to play.

Furyk birdied the first three holes to seemingly take command. Even a bogey at the sixth seemed a minor blip. He made nothing but pars until a birdie at the 16th that kept him a stroke ahead of Bradley, who charged into contention with a back-nine 31.

Still, it was Furyk's tournament, even after a poor drive at the 18th bounced off a tree into the fairway. He had a 7-iron from 175 yards -- and hit it over the green into an awkward lie just outside a bunker. From there, it was a comedy of errors, as Furyk barely got his third shot over the bunker, hit a poor chip, then -- after watching Bradley drain a clutch par putt from 15 feet -- didn't come close to making his 5-footer for a bogey that would have forced a playoff.

"I'm not sure I've ever lost in worse fashion than this," Furyk said. "No way I should ever make worse than 5 on the last hole."

And the putt to tie?

"I pushed it really bad," he said. "I never gave it a chance. It was a very quick stroke, and if I had to do it all over again I'd probably try to hit a putt like I do every other time and just kind of die it in the hole. I wanted to take a little bit of break out of it.

"I figured being here, being excited, you're going to go ahead and hit a relatively firm putt either way, so try to take a little break out of it, but I pushed it really bad. It was a really terrible putt."

Brutal, really. It went so far past the hole that Furyk had a tough putt back for a double-bogey 6 to tie Steve Stricker for second. Stricker also shot 64 to finish a stroke behind Bradley. Early on, Stricker was eight strokes back.

"At that point you're just trying to shoot a good round," Stricker said. "But I still had Ernie Els in the back of my mind. He was seven back at the turn [two weeks ago at Royal Lytham]. You just never know. You've just got to keep playing, and that's why we finish it out and play them all.

"I'm so shocked to see what happened to Jim there on the last."

This summer should forever change that mindset. It has been a year of 54-hole blown leads on the PGA Tour, with guys winning tournaments while no longer being able to do anything to affect the outcome.

Simpson shot a final-round 68 at the U.S. Open and was watching in the locker room as Furyk and Graeme McDowell could not catch him. Els shot a back-nine 32 at the Open Championship that included a final-hole birdie, but he was on the putting green hoping for a playoff when Scott capped off his bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey finish.

And then there was Bradley -- who played with Furyk on Sunday -- standing in disbelief to the side of the green as Furyk's bogey putt missed the hole, winning with his hand covering his mouth. He shot a great round, played a strong back nine, made a clutch par-saving putt on the 18th -- all of which would not have been enough if Furyk takes care of business.

A victory here would have been the 17th for Furyk in what has been a very successful career. Added to a U.S. Open win and his overall consistency, you could have made (and might still make) a strong argument for his inclusion in the World Golf Hall of Fame. At the very least, you'd say he should be a lock to be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team -- whether he makes it on his own or not -- for the eighth straight time.

That's a lot to ponder as Furyk tries to erase such a difficult loss while consoling his kids as well.

"The thing I love about this sport," Furyk said, "is that I have no one else to blame but myself."

Now it's on to the PGA Championship, where the Sunday leader at Kiawah Island might not want to know it.