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Saturday, September 5, 2009
Trio produces sea of red numbers at TPC Boston


NORTON, Mass. -- He owns a pair of major championship titles, seven career PGA Tour victories and the sweetest putting stroke this side of Ben Crenshaw. And yet, following the second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, Retief Goosen was feeling more than a little inadequate.

"It looked like I was shooting 80 at one stage," he said, shaking his head wistfully.

You can excuse the two-time U.S. Open champion if he gained a complex during the opening 36 holes at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He didn't shoot 80, though. Far from it. Instead, Goosen backed up an opening-round 65 with a 67 here at TPC Boston, leaving him in a share of third place when he walked off the course early Saturday afternoon ... and dead last among his threesome.

You don't like the FedEx Cup playoff format? You're hardly alone.

Ernie Els

Michael Dwyer/AP

Sean O'Hair, left, and Jim Furyk both stand at 12 under through 36 holes at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

You think the points system is more frayed than Charley Hoffman's hair, field sizes are more bloated than Angel Cabrera after a post-Masters victory celebration and the increased volatility makes the system shakier than Tiger Woods over a 7-foot putt at Liberty National? In order, I say, OK, fine and low blow.

No matter your thoughts on the current system, though, it's difficult to debate one of its coolest byproducts, as players are grouped each week based on their status in the points standings. It was because of this rule that Sean O'Hair, Goosen and Jim Furyk -- ranked Nos. 16, 17 and 18, respectively -- played together in the opening two rounds.

As for the reason why they played so brilliantly, well, that's a little more difficult to analyze.

Let's start with the numbers. At the midway point of the second playoff event, O'Hair and Furyk are tied atop the leaderboard at 12-under-par; Goosen is 2 strokes back at 10-under. They've totaled three dozen birdies and a pair of eagles against just six bogeys for a combined 34-under, with none of 'em posting a round higher than 67 so far.

"I'm not sure I've ever played in a group where all three guys played so well," said Furyk, who opened with rounds of 63-67. "It was a lot of fun. We saw a lot of good golf and a lot of good golf shots, and obviously I saw some putts go in. We all made our share of putts."

Like a Major League batting order with perfect team chemistry or an NFL offense fueled by momentum, these three amigos fed off one another's positive energy, proving the old adage that good golf is contagious.

Or is it?

"Only when you're playing that well," Furyk said. "If you're at even par, you feel like you're shooting 80. If those two guys were 12 under and 10 under and I was around even par trying to make the cut, no, it doesn't help too much. Then you feel like you're playing probably worse than you are. But if you're playing well right along with them, yeah, I think it helps a little bit."

"Yeah, it can either help you or it can really hurt you," said O'Hair, who has posted scores of 66-64 so far. "You know, if you get impatient out there, it can actually be a detriment. But with the attitude I had out there the last couple days, it just was nice because everybody was playing well and we fed off each other. So it's just a lot of fun."

That's hardly been the descriptive term for O'Hair's game lately. Entering this week, he had recorded only 12 birdies in his last 10 competitive rounds, including four days without a red figure. And he hasn't finished better than T-65 in his past five starts, dating back to early July.

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"I thought I'd never make a birdie again, to be honest with you," O'Hair said with a laugh on Saturday. "It was a tough stretch. I just think when you're not putting and you're hitting the ball well, you just continue to put more pressure and more pressure and more pressure, and then all of a sudden the ball striking goes awry and here come the big numbers."

"He hadn't made a putt in what feels like three months," said caddie Paul Tesori, who has been reading more greens for his player this week. "This is a guy who, going into that stretch, was probably third on the tour in birdies. He's too good, he's too talented and he's been working too hard. And then all of a sudden, yesterday the putts started dropping."

They've been dropping in bunches so far this week, as O'Hair has matched that number of birdies in his previous 10 rounds in the last two days alone, with an eagle thrown in for good measure.

Meanwhile, his playing partners have kept pace, too.

Furyk is seeking his first victory since the 2007 Canadian Open. While it may be disappointing for a player of his caliber, consider this stat: Entering this week, there have been 5,155 individual starts on the PGA Tour this season and 38 winners, leaving those with the hardware at a James Bond-like percentage of .007.

Don't be surprised if Furyk's winless streak doesn't remain intact come Monday evening.

"I hit a few bad shots, got loose once in a while, but was able to score well all day," he said of his six-birdie performance. "When I made a mistake or hit a bad shot, I was able to make par most of the time, and I did hit quite a few good shots and set myself up and was able to knock some putts in for birdie."

As for the third member of the threesome, Goosen may have felt like he shot 80, but he's right in the thick of things. And his chances will only improve if greens continue to firm up as expected.

"The faster they get," said the soft-spoken South African, "the better I like them."

"He's cool as ice," Furyk contended. "The guy is as good over an 8 foot par putt as anyone I've seen. He's just got a great temperament, I think, and a lot of young players could look at him and learn a lot, just getting paired with him for two days."

These guys all learned from each other during the opening 36 holes, compiling a total that easily made them the most fortuitous over the first two days.

Heck, things were so good, in fact, that even the guy who felt a little inferior was pretty happy with the way it turned out.

"It's been an amazing threeball, the three of us," Goosen said. "We've played very well together and sort of worked off each other's shots and putts. It's been a nice couple of days."

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.