Jim Furyk is a popular and respected member of the PGA Tour. He's been a pro for two decades and he's bagged 26 wins; he even took down a major, the U.S. Open, in 2003.
But right now, he's just another guy who choked under the brightest of international lights — the cruel magnifying glass of the Ryder Cup. Right now he's just another guy who couldn't make a short putt when it really mattered.
Furyk was one of Davis Love's four Captain's Picks back in early September, and he probably was the most controversial of the group. Furyk didn't record a win on tour in 2012, and two of his near-misses were punctuated with memorable giveaways (the snap hook at the U.S. Open on Sunday, hole No. 16; and the shocking double-bogey at the final hole at Bridgestone Invitational).
The other selections on Love's clipboard all bagged a victory in 2012, in addition to holding a specific characteristic that made them fit the roster. Dustin Johnson is freaky-long; Brandt Snedeker is a dynamite putter; and Steve Stricker, in addition to other qualifications, is generally seen as the best pairing for Tiger Woods.
The critics pointed to Furyk's 8-15-4 record in Ryder Cup play and shook their heads. The sympathizers focused on Jimmy's 10-6-2 record at the Presidents Cup and his solid reputation as a teammate and well-liked competitor. The doubters wondered if Furyk would be consistent with his driver and putter under the heaviest of pressure, noting the recent meltdowns. The pro-Furyk side felt this was a pick for experience, a nod for boring-but-reliable steadiness.
Alas, that steadiness never showed up at Medinah. Selected to be a rock, Furyk faded in the pressure moments all weekend.
Furyk and Snedeker looked shaky in Friday's opening foursome match against Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, though the U.S. team found a way to square the proceedings entering the final hole. Snedeker ultimately misfired on that critical tee shot, and the match went to Europe when McDowell converted a par putt and Furyk couldn't answer. Love, predictably, sat Furyk and Snedeker in the afternoon.
Furyk and Snedeker exacted revenge on Saturday morning, taking down the same European team of McIlroy and McDowell, and then they rested for the balance of the day. With the U.S. ahead 10-6 entering Sunday, the singles matches looked like a long coronation walk for the Americans.
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No matter what happens for the rest of his career, Furyk will never forget the sting of his Sunday loss to Sergio Garcia. Furyk was even or ahead in the match for 15 of the first 16 holes, and he was 1-up with just two holes left to play. If Furyk could manage a half point at that juncture late in the afternoon, the U.S. was in good shape. A full point would thrust the Americans back in the driver's seat.
Garcia promptly squared things on the par-3 17th hole, recording a par while Furyk made a shaky bogey from the bunker. And Furyk quickly handed Garcia the advantage on No. 18, driving into a fairway bunker. Furyk wound up blasting his approach to the back of the green, while Garcia played his way into an ordinary par.
Furyk's first putt was a reasonable downhill lag but leaked past the hole, leaving six feet. You could argue Furyk now faced the most important six-footer of his life, and the tension was palpable. Furyk studied the putt from all angles, addressed the ball, then backed off. He went through his routine a second time, then backed off again. The entire golf world was watching and Furyk seemed to be aware of every last viewer. You'll never see an established star more uncomfortable over a putt.
Is there such a thing as studying a putt too long? Can a grinder be his own worst enemy? Is it possible to want to succeed too much?
Even before the putt was struck, it felt like a fait accompli. Furyk's final stroke was an awkward jab and the putt missed to the right, never scaring the hole. Europe had its full point, was finally in control.
Would Hunter Mahan have handled that moment better than Furyk, contrary to his Ryder Cup history? We'll never know. Was Nick Watney ready to be on the U.S. team, or Bo Van Pelt, or Bill Haas? We can only speculate.
Anyone who's ever played golf competitively knows the empty feeling — missing a short putt, letting your team down, giving away a match you thought you had. Unfortunately for Jim Furyk, he had his moment when the stakes were the highest. And when the Ryder Cup historians make an entry next to your name, they record in ink. Some legacies are never fully erased.
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