SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - His swing was always loopy.
But everything else about Jim Furyk?
Furyk was so predictable that his nickname used to be “T4” _ shorthand for someone who ties for fourth _ because he always sneaked up the leaderboards late without scaring anyone that he might actually win. And then along came that sizzling performance at Olympia Fields in 2003 to wipe away an 0-for-31 stain in the majors and mark Furyk as a force in every tournament where making pars down the stretch mattered.
But on this fog-shrouded Sunday at The Olympic Club, nine years after he won the U.S. Open, Furyk had a second title in his grasp with a half-dozen holes ahead of him _ and went skidding down the leaderboard instead. It happened so fast it nearly took your breath away.
“I don’t know how to put that one into words,” Furyk began, “but I had my opportunities and my chances and it was right there. It was, on that back nine, it was my tournament to win and I felt like if I went out there and shot even par, 1 under, I would have distanced myself from the field. And I wasn’t able to do so.
“I played quite well, actually,” he paused, “until the last three holes.”
Furyk walked off the 15th green with two par-5s still in front of him and plenty of time to deliver a big punch. A nervy par save from the greenside rough at No. 18 left Simpson sitting in the clubhouse with little else to do besides watch. He might have been one of the few spectators at Olympic who wasn’t tempted to cover his eyes as Furyk turned the last three holes into a gut-wrenching ride out of the House of Horror Amusement Park.
It began with a duck hook off the 16th, where the tee had been moved up 100 yards from the previous day and Furyk’s mind raced through a set of scenarios, none of which he felt comfortable with. He was mad enough with a mishit at No. 12 to turn and swing backhanded in anger. After the disaster off the tee at 16, it’s incredible his wood didn’t go helicoptering down the fairway after the ball.
“I don’t know what to say, other than there’s no way anyone else in the field was prepared for the tee to be that far up. I just didn’t handle it very well. And I’m not sure I hit the wrong club off the tee, but probably hit the wrong shot. …
“But the rest of the field had that same shot today,” Furyk said, “and I’m pretty sure no one hit as (lousy) a shot as I did. … I have no one to blame but myself.”
The tee shot wound up well left of the fairway, forcing Furyk to pitch back out. His chance to salvage par there disappeared when he hit a wedge shot, normally one of his strengths, that spun back off the green. Furyk hadn’t made a birdie all day, but the two holes left were two of the more yielding for the entire tournament.
Instead, he made par at 17 and a hash out of 18, skidding a bunker shot across the green before recovering to post a second bogey that left him at 3 over, two shots behind Simpson in a tie for fourth. While Furyk’s misadventures piled up, TV commentators filled up the minutes by speculating whether fatigue and Furyk’s age had suddenly caught up with him, and whether his “window of opportunity” was closing.
By the time he stepped in front a microphone, it was clear that some of that banter had been played back for Furyk. It wasn’t completely far-fetched; he hasn’t won on tour since 2010 and slipped from No. 2 on the money list in 2010 to No. 53 last year. Either way, Furyk was steamed.
“Two years ago I was the Player of the Year in the United States. I played poorly last year, and all of a sudden I’m middle aged. So I got to be honest with you with you, that (ticks) me off,” said Furyk, who is 42.
“So, yeah, I think I have a few more good years. I’ve been saying it all year and I would like to get another opportunity, whether or not that happens again in a major championship, I don’t know. I know I let one slide today and slip and, hey, Webb went out there and got it, too.”
The questions got easier after that. Someone asked whether he would take away any “positives” from the week.
“Well, yeah, I mean at least I had about 15 minutes to kind of collect my thoughts and I’ve already gone through and said the stuff I shouldn’t have said. Y’all weren’t around, so … so I’ve had a little time to calm down.”
Furyk was steady again, so much so that you could almost see the anger drain from his face.
“But that taste of honey definitely is worse than if I would have come back today and shot 2 under and finished (with) the same score,” he said. “I would be, I’d be walking out here with big smile on my face and a tie for fourth.”
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.