Hilton Head Games

April 25, 2010

How Do You Cure a Masters Hangover? In Jim Furyk's Case By Winning the Heritage

MY SHOT Dan Jenkins: Semi-Gruff • P. G16 | DOTTIE PEPPER A Whan with a Plan • P. G16

One way or another, whether you played in it or only watched, you have to put Augusta in your rearview mirror and get on with your life. Seventy-two golfers played four rounds on Hilton Head Island last week, each man facing the same task: move on from the Masters. Easier said than done.

There were players who got in a car in the Augusta National parking lot, cruised down Magnolia Lane and made the 160-mile blue-highways drive to the South Carolina low country, watching for the speed traps in Fairfax and Allendale and other small South Carolina towns. They relived their three-putt greens and dealt with their Phil envy.

Others had alternate routes to the 1st tee at the Harbour Town Golf Links. Brian Davis, the runner-up to Jim Furyk at the Verizon Heritage, wasn't in the field at Augusta. He made the five-hour interstate drive from his home in Orlando. "No kids, so relaxing!" he said pleasantly. As he headed north on I-95 through Florida, his bicycle in the back of his Cadillac Esplanade, he thought of the Masters and how he'd like to get back. The transplanted Londoner knows how it works: To secure a tee time at the 2011 Masters, all he'd need to do was win the Verizon.

As it turned out, he lost to Furyk in a two-man, one-hole playoff. Still, in addition to $615,600, Davis won over more people than you could possibly count. The playoff was played on the signature par-4 18th hole, in the brackish air of low tide. He pulled his second shot, hole high but on the beach, a hazard under the rules of golf. On his backswing he ticked a wispy, dead, cruddy little stick—a loose impediment under the rules of golf. Davis immediately told the rules official on hand, Slugger White, what he thought had happened. They went to the videotape for confirmation, and Davis was assessed a two-shot penalty. The tournament, in essence, was over. Integrity lived on.

"How about a hand for Brian Davis?" Gentleman Jim asked of the crowd at his awards ceremony, the tartan winner's coat on his bony frame. Furyk had four solid rounds: 67, 68, 67 and 69 on the par-71 course that plays well under 7,000 yards. He has now won twice in 2010, the Tampa stop in March and Hilton Head last week. In between came Augusta and—this is hard to fathom, given his good play this year—a missed cut.

Furyk took his time getting to Hilton Head. On Masters Saturday he practiced on the sprawling new Augusta National range. On Sunday he drove to Myrtle Beach for a Monday event. Late on Masters Sunday, Furyk was in a Myrtle hotel room watching various friends—Phil, Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods—having so much torturous fun without him. He shook his head and closed his eyes when Mickelson decided to thread the needle on 13 (page G10). Jim, you may have noticed, is the more prudent type.

On Monday, in Myrtle Beach, Furyk played in the Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am. (Now there's a title that says it all.) Furyk's celebrity partner was Darius Rucker, who founded the band and is its lead singer.

Ricky Barnes, fresh off his 10th-place finish at Augusta, was in the Hootie field, too. "Got up at 5:30 Monday morning in Augusta, drove the 3½ hours to Myrtle, played a six-hour round, then drove the 4½ hours to Hilton Head," an animated Barnes said. He raised his hands into a human question mark. "How'm I doing?" Answer: pretty darn well. At Harbour Town, Barnes tied for fifth. He figured out a way to get his good play from Augusta, Ga., to Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Mike (Fluff) Cowan, Furyk's caddie, did about the same thing as his boss and Barnes. He went from Augusta to Myrtle for the Hootie event—to play in it as a celebrity—and took his sweet time getting there. What would you expect from Fluff, a mad dash? Cowan's been playing road games for a long while now. He's made the Augusta to Hilton Head drive 30 or so times over the years, and he knows every route there is, and there are a bunch. Not a single speeding ticket. Nope. No heavy foot for Fluff, who won at Augusta with Woods in '97. As for his Hilton Head results, that had been a sad story. Note the tense. He had been 0 for 30 or so. On Sunday he won for the first time at a course much appreciated by loopers. (Short, flat, narrow and you don't have to wear heavyweight white caddie overalls.) In victory, Jim and Tabitha Furyk's pair of little munchkins gave Uncle Fluff warm hugs, and Furyk helped his man remove the 18th-hole flag from the flagstick, the winning caddie's traditional memento.

On Saturday at the Verizon, Furyk was paired with a native son of Augusta, Charles Howell III. For the third round at Harbour Town, Howell was right where he wanted to be, in the final twosome on a gorgeous spring afternoon.

Masters week, he was in the wrong place. He was home, in Orlando, in Isleworth, with his pregnant wife, Heather. He watched the tournament on TV, all of it. Tiger and CH3 are friends, and Howell watched Woods's play with extra care. "For not playing for over five months, and coming back and tying for fourth, that's strong," Howell said.

Naturally, Howell watched Phil closely, too. Charlie's won twice on Tour since turning pro 10 years ago, the second time in 2007 in L.A., in a playoff over ... Phil. Howell watched Phil do what Phil does while making mental notes about what he needs to do to improve.

The Monday after the Masters was a long day for Charlie and Heather. They went from Orlando to Augusta for a baby shower. Once it seemed like a perfect date: The expecting parents would be in town anyhow for the Masters. Cue up the Robert Burns line about the best-laid schemes of mice and men. Still, Howell got himself to Augusta, and then to Hilton Head, and then tied for the lead with Furyk through two rounds.

Charlie, like Fluff, knows the way from Augusta to Hilton Head. He's done it in Masters-issued Cadillacs. He's done it in Masters-issued Mercedes-Benzes. This year he did it in a Chrysler he rented from National.

Howell's route is pure country, starting with the spooky stretch, nearly 30 miles long and without cellphone reception, through the Savannah River Site, the site of a former nuclear reactor. Howell calls it "the bomb factory." (Plutonium was once processed there.) He survived the trip unscathed.

"Every other week on Tour you finish a tournament, you get on a plane and you're already thinking about the next stop," Howell says. "Augusta's the only one where you're looking back. You're replaying shots again and again in your head, trying to figure things out."

This year, for the wrong reason, Howell arrived on Hilton Head fresh as an April daisy, and after two rounds you could imagine him earning the win-and-you're-in pass to the 2011 Masters. But after his Saturday round of 73 a busload of guys passed him. On Sunday he played with Chad Campbell, who had finished 45th at the Masters, before making the drive to Hilton Head. During their Sunday round at the Verizon, Charlie asked Chad about this year's Masters, how the course was set up and what the greens were like. Moving on from the Masters, it's easier said than done, and easier for some than others.

Luke Donald missed the cut at Augusta, flew home to Chicago for the weekend, played with his baby, watched Phil win, flew to Hilton Head and vowed that he would not do what he did at Augusta: put too much pressure on himself. He tied for third. Heath Slocum finished 18th at Augusta, made a slow drive to Hilton Head with his wife and two young children and learned of Mickelson's victory when his mother-in-law called. He vowed to keep swinging at Hilton Head as he did at Augusta. He tied for eighth.

But Furyk had the most novel approach of anybody at Harbour Town. You know what he did to get there, the Saturday practice session at Augusta, the Sunday drive to Myrtle, the Monday Hootie outing, the Tuesday drive to Hilton Head, the Wednesday pro-am, the four solid rounds. If you heard him on Thursday, you knew his head was in good shape. When he was asked about his Masters performance, or lack thereof, Furyk said, "I don't even remember that I played in it." Try finding a sports psychologist who can teach that.

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"Augusta's the only one where you're looking back," says Howell.

"How about a hand for Brian Davis?" Furyk asked at the awards ceremony.

PHOTOPhotograph by DARREN CARROLLJIM DANDY Furyk, who missed the cut at Augusta, has 15 career Tour victories, including two this year. PHOTOPhotograph by DARREN CARROLLTIGHT FIT Furyk led the field in approaches closest to the hole and was fourth in scrambling at claustrophobic Harbour Town. TWO PHOTOSPhotographs by DARREN CARROLLTOUGH CALL Davis told White (far right) that he had clipped a loose impediment on his backswing, a two-stroke penalty.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)