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Tough to Take
June 25, 2007
Jim Furyk's late charge had his home state buzzing, but for the second consecutive year his quest for the title came up a shot short
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June 25, 2007

Tough To Take

Jim Furyk's late charge had his home state buzzing, but for the second consecutive year his quest for the title came up a shot short

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Jim Furyk is one tough cookie. On Sunday he was tough enough to rebound from consecutive bogeys on the back nine at mighty Oakmont by making three straight birdies to give himself a chance to win the U.S. Open. He was tough enough to make no excuses for the bogey on the next-to-last hole, the drivable but devilish par-4 17th, when he was tied for the lead. He was tough enough to lose the Open by a shot for the second straight year and deal with it. � But the guy has feelings. When Furyk and Tiger Woods, who tied for second, accepted their medals at the awards ceremony on the 18th green,

Furyk was the first to step to the microphone. He congratulated the winner, Angel Cabrera, for what Furyk called a "fabulous" closing 69. Then he gathered himself for a moment and said, "I want to thank everyone from Pennsylvania." His voice quivered on the last word. He paused, then barely got out the rest of his message. "Coming back to my home state and seeing all the support made it a great week for me. Thank you." His fans responded with one last long ovation.

By the time the ceremony ended and Furyk had made his way back to the clubhouse, an orange sun had slipped beyond the hazy edges of the evening sky, ending a steamy day. Furyk's eyes were red and his lips were pursed as he stared blankly straight ahead. Perhaps what had just happened--another Open championship slipping through his fingers, even though he had shot two rounds of even-par 70 on the weekend--was beginning to sink in. Without his hat, his mostly bald head made him look every bit his 37 years.

Western Pennsylvanians know that Furyk is one of them. His dad, Mike, was once a club pro in the Pittsburgh area. Though Jim grew up near Lancaster in the eastern portion of the state, he is a huge Steelers fan. In these parts that counts for plenty, so on Sunday the loudest roars and the biggest buzz were reserved for him. No sooner had he bogeyed the 11th and 12th holes to apparently fall out of contention than he hit a seven-iron shot close at 13 and made a big putt for birdie. He birdied again at 14 and again at 15.

The final round was filled with disasters. Overnight leader Aaron Baddeley triple-bogeyed the opening hole. Stephen Ames, who had climbed into a tie for the top spot, tripled the 7th and doubled the 9th. Steve Stricker, who had come out of nowhere to take the lead, slipped out of sight with back-to-back doubles to kick off the back nine. Even Woods doubled the 3rd hole, thanks to an uncharacteristic display of poor chipping.

Other than Cabrera, the only player making anything positive happen was Furyk, and when the big Argentine bogeyed the 17th hole with a sand wedge from the middle of the fairway, Furyk stood on the 17th tee tied for the lead. Cabrera, who had three-putted the 16th, was faltering, and Furyk was charging. Then came the sequence that in Furyk's mind will always define the 107th U.S.�Open.

The 17th is only 313 yards long, but the green is heavily guarded by bunkers in front and back, and by deep rough to the left. There are no leader boards nearby, so when Furyk stepped to the tee he didn't know he was tied. He decided to go for the green with driver, just as he had the day before. With the pin in the back of the green, laying up was no bargain--as Cabrera had just discovered.

It was the right decision. Furyk has made a career out of making good decisions. There was just one problem: The air was a dozen degrees warmer than it had been on Saturday, and there was much more humidity. Plus, Furyk had a six-pack of adrenaline flowing through his veins. His drive went long and left, into the deepest, thickest rough. He tried to flop his ball onto the green but left it short, still in the rough. His next pitch went high into the air and stopped eight feet past the hole. When he missed the par putt, he had essentially lost the U.S.�Open.

"I was kind of surprised he hit driver, as good a wedge player as he is," said Stricker, who was paired with Furyk. "But then again, I laid up and ended up making double bogey. You don't know what to do on that hole. There's trouble any way you look at it."

Furyk had no regrets about pulling driver--short and left of the green was the perfect angle to attack the pin. "It was the right play," he said. "I was shocked to see how far it went. I hit that ball approaching 300 yards. Guys like me don't do that. I was jacked up, I guess. But 17 will always chafe me."

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