Furyk had shown his mental toughness in pressure situations before, most notably in a classic '97 Ryder Cup victory over Nick Faldo, and also in a stirring seven-hole playoff he lost to Woods in the 2001 NEC Invitational. But Furyk had faltered in the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, shooting an 82 on Sunday after entering the final round tied for ninth. This time he stayed steady enough to make his father and lifelong coach, Mike, beam with pride. After Leaney birdied the 13th hole to pull within three, Furyk ended any remaining suspense on the next hole by hitting a pitching wedge to three feet and converting the birdie. "When you're under the most extreme pressure, you're going to revert to what's natural," says Mike, who encouraged Jim to stick with his swing early in his career even as others said he could never succeed with such an unconventional style. "If you have a manufactured golf swing, I'm a firm believer that you won't hold up under pressure. If you've got a swing that's natural, whatever it looks like, you've got a chance."
It's also handy to have a competitive drive that borders on the irrational. Linda Furyk still laughs about the time she took 10-year-old Jimmy on a miniature-golf outing, then made the mistake of beating him. "I wasn't even trying to win," Linda says, "but I was sinking everything, and he did not take it well." Nor does Jim gracefully handle defeats in fishing competitions with Tabitha, who says of her husband's intensity, "We've gone out to goof around on the basketball court and ended up running suicide sprints." A rabid Pittsburgh Steelers fan since childhood, Furyk attended a 2000 game against the Ravens in Baltimore, before which he and his friends were tossing around a football in the parking lot. Mel Blount he wasn't: One throw sailed past Furyk, who slipped on the gravel as he lunged to deflect the pass. He tore tendons in his right wrist while breaking the fall, forcing him to miss two months of golf. "Things like that happen all the time to Jim," Tabitha says. "He's just accident prone."
It wasn't all that shocking, then, that last Saturday morning, as he was playing in bed with the couple's daughter, Caleigh, who celebrates her first birthday on June 24, Furyk tweaked his left thumb and let out a scream. Unfazed, he went out and shot a 67. On Sunday morning Jim watched Hoosiers at the house he and Tabitha had rented, then got choked up while wishing Mike a happy Father's Day on the practice tee.
Fast-forward to the evening, when, following a throwaway bogey on 17, Furyk hit a seven-iron to the 18th green and became emotional once more. He began walking up the fairway, then went back to join his caddie, Mike (Fluff) Cowan, who had stopped to replace a divot. Yes, that's the same Fluff who gained celebrity as Woods's quirky bag man before being dumped in 1999, his reemergence yet another symbolic chink in Tiger's armor.
What happened next, Furyk says, was a blur: three-putting to squander sole possession of the scoring record (Who cares? Furyk thought); hugging Tabitha, who's expecting another child in December; scooping up the unruffled Caleigh; embracing his parents; and, finally, hoisting the winner's trophy for the adoring gallery.
Nearly three hours later, under a pitch-black sky, Furyk stood outside the clubhouse—again holding Caleigh, who by now was tired, hungry and cranky—and tried for the umpteenth time to put his triumph into perspective. No longer would Furyk be labeled the B.P.N.N.P.N.T.H.W.A.M. (Best Player Not Named Phil Never to Have Won a Major, as he was named in a recent SI poll of Tour players). "My father's a hard worker and a perfectionist, and I inherited a lot of that, sometimes to a fault," he said, placating his daughter by swinging her up and down.
Caleigh grabbed at her dad's charcoal-gray slacks, one of the pairs he'd purchased earlier in the week, and Jim got choked up again. "This," the new Open champion said softly, "is a pretty perfect Father's Day."