Sunday, June 15

Furyk wrote the book on tough

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- After Curtis Strange won consecutive U.S. Opens in 1988 and 1989, he co-authored an instructional book entitled "Win and Win Again!" After Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open and two other majors in 2000, he wrote a book called "How I Play Golf." When the publishers come after Jim Furyk in the wake of his three-stroke victory in the 103rd national championship Sunday, we've got some titles to consider:

Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk missed a 6-footer that would have given him the scoring record outright, but the only thing that really mattered to him was the trophy.

  • "Loop Dreams"
  • "My Swing and How to Survive It"
  • "Spinal Fusion and Me"

    As Furyk proved for four rounds at Olympia Fields Country Club, all his loop-at-the-top swing is good for is fairways and greens. Mix that with a steady, cross-handed putting stroke and an XXL-sized heart, and you have an Open winner whose fourth-round lead never dipped below the three-stroke lead with which he began. Furyk's final round of 72 gave him a 72-hole score of 272 and a three-stroke victory -- and his first in a major -- over Stephen Leaney of Australia.

    "I'm elated and overjoyed," said the 33-year-old Furyk, whose victory was worth $1.08 million. "My name is always going to be on the trophy. You can't take it off once they engrave it."

    A three-putt bogey on No. 18 meant that Furyk tied the Open 72-hole scoring record of 272 instead of breaking it. You better believe that, if Furyk had needed a par, he would have made it. Giving Furyk a three-shot lead is like giving John Smoltz the ball with a three-run lead. Furyk is 4-0-1 in singles matches in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He fought Tiger Woods for seven holes before losing a playoff to him at Firestone in 2001.

    With this victory, he extends his streak of consecutive seasons with a victory to six, second only to Woods' streak of eight years.

    "He's tough," Tour veteran Scott Verplank, who finished tied for 10th at one-over 281, said before his round Sunday. "If you get Jim down, you better stab him in the heart. If you don't kill him, he's going to find a breath and get back up."

    Verplank stopped. "That's a little harsh," he said, in a moment of self-editing. "I'll tell you this -- I'd take him as a partner. The guy is pretty tough. You've got to be tough if you come out here with that swing. Everybody says, 'Look at that.' One, if it didn't work, he wouldn't swing like that. Two, since you look different, you've got to be tough and ignore what other people say. They don't know."

    "That swing," as Verplank referred to it, was and is taught to Furyk by his father Mike, who resisted all efforts to change his son's natural motion.

    "This morning, I had a hard time telling him 'Happy Father's Day,' because I knew I'd get choked up," Furyk said. "I knew it would be a big day, not only for me from a career standpoint, but I knew he was going to be out there, my mom was going to be out there and my wife was going to be out there ... What I've done as a person and as a golfer, I owe to my family."

    In the first two rounds, when Furyk set a 36-hole scoring record of 133, matched later Friday by Vijay Singh, the credit for his record went not to him, but to a golf course that appeared defenseless. On Sunday, as the Chicago Chamber of Commerce weather -- sunny, breezy, mid-70s -- made the rough grow teeth and made the greens a slicker mystery than L.A. Confidential, Furyk's achievement became apparent. Nineteen golfers began the final round under par, and only four finished there.

    Only Leaney, the other member of his twosome, put any heat on Furyk, if a Bic lighter in a snowstorm is heat. Leaney, also with a 72, finished at 5-under. No one else finished within seven strokes of Furyk. Both Singh and Nick Price, who started the final round tied, five strokes behind, quickly fell back.

    "It took a lot of pressure off," Furyk said. "I didn't look at the board until about the fifth or sixth hole. And realized that Vijay, Nick, a bunch of the closest guys other than Stephen had started off poorly."

    "It felt like match play after four or five holes," said Leaney, 34, an Australian who has tried and failed five times to qualify for the PGA Tour. With second-place money of $650,000, he has won $804,600 and is a shoo-in to qualify for 2004 by finishing in the top 125 on the money list. "I knew if I kept the honor, I would be in good shape," Leaney said. "Once I lost the honor, I didn't have the chance to put pressure on him off the tee."

    On the 12th tee, Furyk led Leaney by five strokes. After Furyk bogeyed No. 12 and Leaney birdied No. 13, the runner-up said, "He gave me half a chance. Fourteen closed the door on me a little bit." There, Furyk put a pitching wedge within three feet of the hole and made the birdie putt to increase his lead to four strokes with four holes to play.

    Cue the victory march. After Furyk hit a 7-iron to the final green, one of the steeliest players on the PGA Tour turned to mush. Furyk waited for his caddy, Mike "Fluff" Cowan to replace his divot, then said, "C'mon, enjoy this walk with me. We're going to walk this one together."

    "It's going to sound corny," said Cowan, a 55-year-old, 27-year veteran of the PGA Tour, "but (in the majors), the winner is picked long before we get to the first tee. It was Jim Furyk's time and he played great. He played solid, well-thought-out golf all week. He was as relaxed, probably more relaxed, than probably any other major since I've been working for him."

    Furyk proved early in the round that he wore the burden of the final-round lead lightly on his shoulders. At the 400-yard second hole, Furyk drove into the left rough, and couldn't advance the ball to the green. His pitch ran over the right edge of the cup and stopped on the fringe 20 feet behind the hole. Furyk holed the putt, shook his fist once, then five more times.

    At No. 5, Furyk saved par by making a 10-foot putt with two feet of break. The ball quivered on the lip of the hole before falling. Furyk didn't smile enough to show his teeth, but his shaking shoulders indicated laughter.

    "Huge," Cowan called the par putts. "If we started slipping, then it might have given some of them behind us some encouragement. As it turned out, nobody make a move. That board was mostly black (over par) today."

    As a major champion, Furyk's life may become an open book, whether he writes an instructional tome or not. "I'm not better a player today than I was yesterday, just because I won the U.S. Open," Furyk said. When the Open came to Olympia Fields 75 years ago, an underappreciated, dapper golfer with the initials JF won the most important championship in American golf. Johnny Farrell, meet Jim Furyk.

    Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at He can be reached at

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