It looked likethe U.S. Open, with tree-lined fairways, thick rough and huge greens. It feltlike the U.S. Open, with large, enthusiastic crowds (even on a rainy Sunday).And it played like the U.S. Open, with only one final-round score in the 60sand five times as many bogeys and doubles as birdies on the three finishingholes. ¬∂ But last week's PGA Tour stop wasn't the U.S. Open. It was theWachovia Championship, the Tour's best nonmajor not played in Ponte VedraBeach, Fla. Credit goes to the neoclassic Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, whereshotmaking reigns supreme. That explains why the toughest man in the game, JimFuryk, won in a playoff over Trevor Immelman and why three of the four winnersin the event's brief history--Furyk, Vijay Singh and David Toms--are also majorchampions. "You can mostly play a U.S. Open here right now," saystwo-time Open winner Ernie Els. "This is a great test of golf."
Tough players winon tough courses, and Furyk, a native of Pennsylvania who'll turn 36 on Fridayand is in his 13th season on Tour, has as much grit as his beloved PittsburghSteelers. He has used a loopy, much-maligned swing and a cross-handed puttingstroke to win 11 Tour titles, including the 2003 U.S. Open, and go 7-0-1 insingles in the Ryder and Presidents cups.
"I can't nameany of the best players in the world today who aren't tough, who aren'tgritty," Furyk says. "Tiger Woods is the best player in the world, andthere is no one tougher. I view myself as a pretty tough player. A lot ofpeople see the goofy swing and assume that I must be tough and gritty to haveany success."
The secret totough-guy golf is to not waste shots. That's what Furyk excels at, and it'salso why, when his game is right, he always seems to be in contention. (He hasfive top 10 finishes in 11 starts this year.)
Furyk put on aclinic down the stretch on Sunday. He trailed Immelman by a shot at the par-515th, where Furyk's drive drifted into the left rough. His layup clipped a treebranch, leaving him a third shot of 181 yards, while Immelman was in sand wedgerange for a likely birdie. Furyk hit a hard six-iron to 10 feet and made theputt, matching Immelman, who indeed birdied from five feet. At the 480-yard16th, Furyk came up short in two but holed a clutch seven-footer for par tostay one behind. Then at 18, a monster par-4 of 478 yards with a streammeandering down the left side, Furyk's drive found the fairway, only a yard ortwo behind Immelman's ball. Furyk played first and missed the green right.Immelman hit an iron shot to the middle of the green, almost 50 feet away. Ifhe two-putts, it's game over. Furyk played a nice pitch to within eight feet ofa dangerous front-right pin.
Immelman had avery slick downhiller that picked up speed near the hole. As he lined up theputt, the scoreboard adjacent to the green flashed a message along withImmelman's mug shot, reporting that his putt was 49'4" and that he ranked154th on Tour in two-putting from beyond 25 feet. Ouch! It was the equivalentof flashing Shaquille O'Neal's free throw percentage on the scoreboard as heprepared to go to the line to win the game. Immelman said he didn't notice thegraphic, but Furyk did.
"It gave me alittle ray of hope.... I had a similar putt last year, and that is a mean, meanpin," Furyk said. "I'd prefer to see more positive stats on the board.I accept it because I know it's coming and it's part of making our sport morefun for the fans. But it could've been more positive, rather than showing him154th."
When Immelman'sfirst putt ran past the hole, the scoreboard summarily reported the distance(9'8") and flashed that he ranked 133rd in making putts from five to 10feet. Immelman missed, and fans in the crowd, which was clearly pro-Furyk,rudely began clapping. Then Furyk did his tough-man thing, sinking hiseight-footer after consulting veteran caddie Mike (Fluff) Cowan. "I waspretty much stumped," Furyk said. "I thought there was an argument thatit could go right or left. I did a good job of hitting the putt right whereFluff said. He made a great read." Said Cowan, "I finally got oneright."
That forced aplayoff, starting at 18, and once again Furyk showed his skills. Immelman'sdrive went into the right rough, which guaranteed that he couldn't reach thegreen in two. Furyk also lost his drive right but got a break because it caughtthe fairway bunker, where the sand was packed firm by the rain. After Immelmanlaid up, Furyk ripped a three-iron shot that hit the green but spun back offthe front. Immelman's pitch also spun off the green, past Furyk's ball.Immelman chipped close, but he knew he was in trouble. "A player of Jim'scaliber isn't going to take three shots to get down from there," hesaid.
Using a putter,Furyk ran his ball six feet past the hole, but on the comebacker he was pumpinghis fist before the ball reached the cup (page G12). There was a little extraemotion in that pump because Furyk was edged by Aaron Baddeley at Hilton Head afew weeks ago and had lost to Singh in a playoff here last year. In fact, Furykhad lost six straight playoffs. His record in overtime is now 2-6.
More significant,a U.S. Open champion had won on a U.S. Open--style course in U.S. Open--likeconditions against a U.S. Open--quality field. In six weeks the U.S. Open willreturn to mighty Winged Foot, as tough a track as there is in this country. Weknow one player who's ready.
Earl Woods Remembered page G6
MY SHOT John Daly Is a Quitter page G16