ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Jim Furyk had a zinger ready.
He’s kind of tired of hearing about how old he is, so he concocted a joke for whomever asked about his age after his sterling third round at the PGA Championship.
“It’s been so damn negative all week,” he said. “I’m kind of waiting for it. I’m going to have some fun with it. You know, I’m not in the grave yet.”
Oh, and another thing: Furyk is a little perplexed that people think he looks aggravated on the course.
“Smile!” he hears. “You look angry out there.”
So he’s old and he’s angry. Might as well be playing with a cane, which he can use to shoo away whippersnappers.
Jim Furyk is not old, and he’s not angry. He’s the same age as Phil Mickelson (43), who wasn’t too old to win a major a few weeks ago. And if Furyk were angry, his round on Saturday would have spiraled out of control after he bogeyed two of the first three holes.
But instead of boiling over, he was able to “laugh it off” and keep plowing through a day that left him one clear of the field going into the final round.
Which brings up the other easy storyline: What happened last year at the U.S. Open, when Furyk collapsed on Sunday in what so many believed was his last, best shot at a major (since, you know, he’s so old). How would he ever recover?
Seems like he’s recovered.
Pretty much everything about Furyk fools the eyes, even and especially that unorthodox swing that CBS analyst David Feherty said looks like "an octopus falling out of a tree." It’s simply hard to believe that swing can be not only repeatable, but reliable in a pressure situation like this.
It was both on Saturday, as Furyk came into the deadly last two holes here with about as much pressure as a third round can bring. He promptly fired a hybrid into the 17th green from 241 yards away and nailed a 15-foot putt. Fist pump.
On 18, Furyk got into the right rough with a wayward drive and had to play his escape short of the green. His third shot didn’t make it to the putting surface. He had to drain it from the fringe to save par and the lead. Would he chip or putt?
“He took out the putter,” said caddie Fluff Cowan, “and I got out of the way.”
Furyk stepped to the ball and let it go. The ball took a hop, which almost always means it won’t get to the hole – especially on an uphill slope – but it scooted right in. Fist pump.
What does a third-round lead mean? Well, not much. The 54-hole frontrunner in this year’s three majors has gone 0 for 3. Furyk is one shot ahead of Jason Dufner, two ahead of Henrik Stenson, three ahead of Jonas Blixt, four ahead of Adam Scott and Steve Stricker, and six ahead of last year’s winner, Rory McIlroy. If Furyk bogeys two of his first three holes again Sunday, this tournament will blow wide open. McIlroy tees off a full half-hour before Furyk, so a low score means he’ll be able to watch the leaders sweat out the last few shots from the cozy clubhouse.
And the storylines will emerge again, about Furyk’s age and his demeanor and his collapse last year.
The better storyline might just be his background. Furyk is the grandson of Pittsburgh millworkers. The only coach he’s ever had was his father. His nickname is “The Grinder” because of his work ethic, and that’s a quality a lot of people simply don’t have. Furyk is a roll-up-your-sleeves guy in a life-of-leisure game. He already won a major with that style, 10 years ago at the U.S. Open, and he’s only one year removed from the Sunday failure that many thought would be the last of him. That thinking did him a disservice.
“I really don’t try to show too much emotion,” Furyk said Saturday, “and try to stay at a real even keel. I guess it’s just natural. It’s what I do. I’m not trying to look like I’m not having fun. I mean, I’m lucky I get to play a game for a living. I’ve been doing it for 20 years.”
That 20 years will likely buoy him Sunday much more than last year’s experience at the U.S. Open will anchor him. Furyk’s a worker. He’ll come to work.
Oh and by the way, he didn’t get to unleash his comment in the press room. Nobody asked about his advanced age.
Maybe he’ll get another chance Sunday, perhaps after he becomes the second 43 year-old in a row to win a major championship.
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