Jim Furyk is not a Vegas kind of guy. The dice and the vice, the
bright lights and the long nights, Furyk can do without all of
that. "I'd rather sit in my room and watch TV," he says. Not
surprisingly, Furyk avoids casinos like a case of the yips. In
1995, his sophomore season, Furyk came to the Las Vegas
Invitational and won his first Tour event, no doubt because he
got more rest that week than any other player. He celebrated the
victory by going crazy and playing 25-cent video poker. Last
year Furyk won the Invitational again, and this time he really
lost his head, playing five-dollar hands of blackjack for about
20 minutes, the sum total of his week's gambling--at least off
Furyk's aversion to the trappings of Sin City may have something
to do with an acute medical condition: He is allergic to
excitement. The symptoms can certainly be seen in his golf game.
He plays with a joyless efficiency and clinical precision that
is numbing to watch. (Ask Sergio Garcia, who was de-spunked by
Furyk in a key singles match at last month's Ryder Cup.) In the
fastidious Furyk's relatively short career, he has established a
reputation as a guy who will grind out strong finishes, if
rarely victories, on tough courses in tough conditions. Since
1996, Furyk has had five top fives in the majors and has been
among the top 15 in nine of his last 11. Furyk's game, then, is
seemingly as ill-suited to Las Vegas as is his personality. The
Invitational is a sprawling 90-hole tournament played on three
shortish desert courses, each rendered defenseless to
accommodate the amateurs who play alongside the pros for the
first four days. The tournament is basically a nonstop
birdie-a-thon, and that Furyk had won it twice was considered a
fluke, like being dealt back-to-back royal flushes.
So here's the really weird part: Last week Furyk prevailed
again, but it wasn't so much the victory that was a stunner as
the manner in which it was achieved. On Sunday, Furyk birdied
three holes in a row down the stretch to hold off a scrapper
named Jonathan Kaye by a shot. And what birdies they were.
First, Furyk holed out a putt for bird from well off the green
on the 14th hole at the TPC Summerlin. He then brazenly whipped
out his driver and drove the green at the 320-yard par-4 15th,
setting up an easy two-putt. At 16, a watery par-5 of 536 yards,
Furyk went for the green in two, and though he bombed a
four-wood long and left, he produced a lovely up-and-down for
the birdie that proved to be the margin of victory. In the end
he had put together the jaw-dropping score of 29 under par
(67-64-63-71-66-331). An even more shocking number: 80. That was
how many dollars Furyk had won playing cards the night before
the final round. "I have no explanation for why I've played well
here over the years," says Furyk. "Things just seem to go my way."
Not so Kaye. The Invitational is the only tournament in golf in
which a guy can start the final round in second place, shoot a
64 and wind up losing, which is exactly what happened to Kaye on
Sunday. "Sometimes your best isn't good enough," he said in a
tone that was surprisingly world weary for such a boyish
29-year-old. Then again, Kaye has put on some hard miles. Toward
the end of a promising rookie year in 1995 he began having
problems with his left shoulder, and two reconstructive
surgeries and three lost seasons later, Kaye is finally putting
his game back together. He proved a perfect foil for Furyk.
Kaye is one of the most entertaining players in golf, wild and
freewheeling, and forever attacking. Generously listed at 5'11",
Kaye is, inch for inch, one of the Tour's biggest hitters--he
came to Las Vegas 28th in driving distance at 280.4 yards a pop.
(Furyk, 6'2" and a former football player, was a mere 171st, at
263.9.) The key component in Kaye's game is passion. Though he's
not a fist pumper, he seems to play with the volume turned all
the way up. "The best thing you can say about Jonathan is that
when people watch him play, they fall in love with him," says
his caddie and girlfriend, Jennifer Sweeney, who also squeezed
in a dozen tournaments this year as a player on the Futures
tour. "The worst thing you can say is that he's a foul-mouthed
hooligan. When he's not playing well, the F-bomb gets dropped
just a tad too often."
Kaye's volatile nature got him into trouble during the third
round of this year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Frustrated by the slow response of a rules official and the
amateurish behavior of one of the amateurs in his group, he
packed it in at the turn without notifying tournament officials.
This led to a $1,000 fine from the Tour and an exchange of
letters with commissioner Tim Finchem. "Just one of the many
run-ins," says Kaye with a crooked grin accentuated by his funky
soul patch, the odd bit of facial hair on his chin.
During last Wednesday's opening round, played in hot, windless
conditions, Kaye was one of eight players to shoot 63, which
wasn't even good for the lead, as local boy Craig Barlow shot a
course-record-tying 61 at the Las Vegas Country Club. That record
lasted less than a day. On Thursday, Tommy Armour III rang up a
60, the 12th in Tour history, though he was still three back of
leader Harrison Frazar, who had a 62. "If you shoot a 67 around
here, you're out of it," said Fred Couples. On Friday the scoring
reached record lows, as the cut came in at 11 under, a number
that would have won 16 tournaments this year. (The old record for
lowest cut, 10 under, came at the 1993 Bob Hope Classic, another
The calm was shattered on Saturday, beginning in the wee hours
of the morning when an earthquake that registered 7.0 on the
Richter scale and originated in the California desert rocked
Vegas with enough force to leave players trembling in their
beds. From the 35th floor at the Bellagio, Kaye could see waves
in the hotel's ground-level pools, and the tall casino hotels
were swaying for so long that Paul Azinger said he got seasick.
John Daly, returning to his ancestral homeland, was so spooked
that he refused to go back to his hotel room, instead crashing
on a park bench at ground level to try to catch a few Z's.
After the quake, the wind gusted up to 42 miles an hour and
scores soared. Over the first three days Summerlin played to an
average of 68.68. On Saturday that number ballooned to 77.56.
Only two players broke par, Furyk and Glen Day, whose 70 shot him
from 62nd place to 13th. Furyk's 71 added to his reputation as a
premier wind player. His only official victory on Tour other than
in Vegas came at the blustery '96 Hawaiian Open. He has also won
the windswept Kapalua International, back when it was a Silly
Season staple, and finished in the top four in two of the last
three British Opens. "I never wake up and say, 'Boy, I hope it's
windy today,'" says Furyk, but if it is, he has a bulletproof
game plan--keep the ball in play by bunting it off the tee and
rely on a putting stroke that Kaye (who shot a 73 on Saturday,
leaving him three shy of Furyk) calls "probably the best on
No one will ever accuse Kaye of being a great putter, but in the
early going on Sunday he didn't need to be. He hit it to a foot
on the 1st hole, to two feet at the 2nd and then reached the
fringe of the par-5 3rd hole for three easy birdies. After going
out in 31, Kaye finally snagged a piece of the lead with a
five-footer for birdie at 11. He promptly made his only real
mistake of the day, a pushed drive at the 12th that cozied up to
the base of a skinny tree and forced him to punch out. Kaye made
bogey, and that was the only opening Furyk needed. After putting
out on 18, he finally allowed himself a hint of emotion--an
awkward fist pump and an embrace of caddie Fluff Cowan, who took
up with Furyk in May after being fired by Tiger Woods. Cowan
made no effort to contain his glee. With a nod to his 10% cut of
the winner's check and to the damage sustained on the green
felt, he said, "Thank god we won. Now I'm about even on the week."
After the tournament Kaye could be found back at the Bellagio
hosting a dozen friends and family members in his luxury suite,
watching baseball, sharing room-service appetizers and chewing
on the events of the day. "I'm going to win soon, bro, for
sure," he said. "It's going to happen." His aerie in the sky had
a view of the entire Strip, shimmering in its neon glory.
"You've got to be lucky to win out there," Kaye said, though it
wasn't clear if he was talking about golf or gaming.
Either way, Furyk offers an eloquent rebuttal, because even in
Las Vegas he leaves nothing to chance.
swaying for so long that Paul Azinger said he got seasick.