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Two tournaments are played every week on the PGA Tour. One is conducted Thursday through Saturday, when carefree savants dazzle with their myriad skills. The real tournament takes place on Sunday, when the objective is to not bleed to death. Jim Furyk looked invincible for 71 holes at last week's Bridgestone Invitational, but no lead has been safe on the PGA Tour this year, and Furyk's double bogey from the fairway on the waterless finishing hole at Firestone Country Club was the latest example of how difficult it is to finish out tournaments. That was easy to forget during Tiger Woods's long run as the most ruthless closer in the history of the sport.
Beginning in 2008—when Woods's body started breaking down and a year before his personal life was torn asunder—16 major championships in a row have been won by a different player, including Keegan Bradley, the beneficiary of Furyk's largesse at Bridgestone and the defending champ at this week's PGA Championship.
Consistency is the coin of the realm in this new age of parity. Furyk was player of the year in 2010 despite not winning a major, and majorless Luke Donald has spent much of the last two seasons atop the World Ranking thanks mostly to a slew of top 10s. Bradley, an intensely driven 26-year-old Tour sophomore, is a throwback in that he seems to care only about winning. Earlier this year he said, "Every time I think about the fact that I'm not Number 1 in the world, I want to tear my head off."
Bradley, ranked 15th in the world, helped induce Furyk's yippy finish at Firestone by holing a clutch 15-footer for par on the final green. Said Bradley of the putt, "I just kept telling myself that this is the exact moment that I live for, that you play golf for, and I'm living it. It's an amazing feeling to be in that moment and loving every second of it. I didn't think for a second I was going to miss it."
Bradley's gumption is what makes him such an intriguing prospect. He's also very long and straight off the tee, and those will be crucial assets at the PGA, to be played at Kiawah Island's Ocean course. Pete Dye's manufactured links layout is penal in the extreme, and the brutal closing holes mean that this most likely will be another tournament that's lost, not won. Depending on who survives this war of attrition, the PGA may or may not add some clarity to a season that has lacked a unifying theme, other than failure. (If it's any consolation to Furyk, Adam Scott feels your pain.) On Sunday, Furyk, who in June coughed up the lead at the U.S. Open with an errant tee shot at the 70th hole, tried to describe what it feels like to blow another tournament: "You're working so hard, you're trying too hard, you're pushing too hard.... When things go wrong, it's an empty feeling." Not as succinct as "These guys are good," but probably more reflective of the metaphysical battles that define tournament golf.
The PGA is the beginning of a finishing flourish that also includes the four-event FedEx Cup "playoffs" and the Ryder Cup. Someone will emerge as player of the year, but it will undoubtedly come at a high human cost. As a morose Furyk said on Sunday, "I've known it's a cruel game for a long time." It only seems to be getting crueler.