Saturday, June 14


Furyk endures as Open fights back



OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Jim Furyk is built like a one-iron, with so little rear end that his pre-shot routine includes pushing his trousers up with his glove hand. Save for the hawk nose that dominates his thin face, there is no curve to his profile, and his play Saturday explained why: Furyk is all backbone.

Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk is just the third player in U.S. Open history to reach double-digits under par.

"I consider myself a very hard worker and a guy that can grind it out in tough conditions," Furyk said after finishing 54 holes of the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields Country Club at 10-under par 200, three strokes clear of the field. "And if things turn bad, I'm a guy that doesn't quit."

We may never know. For three rounds, things haven't come close to turning bad for Furyk, a 33-year-old PGA Tour veteran with a history of playing well in majors without quite contending. He has 11 top-10 finishes in major championships, but according to his own recollection, has led only once, in the 1998 British Open.

"I think," he qualified. "I don't know. That was a long time ago."

Furyk, tied at 9-under with playing partner Vijay Singh on the 12th hole, toured the final seven holes in 1-under, punctuating his finish with a 25-foot birdie putt. When his putt fell, Furyk actually bared his teeth as he celebrated.

Singh played the last seven holes in 4-over, with bogeys on the last three holes, and finished tied for third with Nick Price at 5-under 205. Furyk will play the final round with Stephen Leaney of Australia, who reached 7-under with a birdie of his own at the 18th hole.

For the better part of three rounds, the U.S. Open field gave Olympia Fields no props. Oh, the golfers said all the right things, complimenting the old-style feel of the course. But between the ropes, with their sticks in their hands, the best players in the world did everything but talk about the course's mama.

They set scoring records for lowest 54-hole score (200), 36-hole score (133) and lowest cut (143).

They tied records for lowest nine (29) and lowest 18 (63).

In short, they routed Olympia Fields for two rounds, and for most of Saturday, they did the same. Dicky Pride, teeing off at noon, shot 4-under 32 on the front side. Mike Weir, on the first tee at 12:30 p.m., played the first nine holes in 4-under. Price, teeing off at 2:20 p.m., birdied five of the first six holes and took the lead at 9-under. Olympia Fields appeared on the verge of collapse under the onslaught of birdies.

Then came the heat, weather that hadn't been seen all week. By 3 p.m., the thermometer at Olympia Fields reached 76 degrees. The sun demanded the thickest sunscreen. The heat arrived, like the 20th Maine at Gettysburg, just in the nick of time and changed the course of the battle.

"The rough is a little tougher and the greens are more challenging," Tom Meeks, the USGA official in charge of course setup, said of the weather Saturday afternoon. "The warm temperature is helping everything."

Add to that, the strongest breezes of the week. After 6 p.m., the leaves in the oaks that tower over the 14th green rustled as Furyk stood over his birdie putt. Near 7 p.m., as Furyk and Singh stood on the tee of the 247-yard, par-3 17th, the flag danced as if someone had soaked it in Red Bull.

Get a load of the back-nine scores among the late finishers. Justin Leonard dropped from 6-under to 2-under. Jonathan Byrd fell from 7-under, in sole possession of third, to 4-under and a four-way tie for fifth. Singh sunk to 5-under. Tiger Woods played the back nine in 3-over and shot 75. He is 1-over and 11 strokes out of the lead.

Furyk, known as one of the best wind players on the PGA Tour, fought the weather to a draw. He is only the third player in Open history to reach 10-under par. The first, Gil Morgan, imploded at the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and fell all the way to 13th. The second, Woods, finished the 2000 Open at Pebble at 12-under.

"I'm 10-under, which is rare at a U.S. Open, so I'm kind of stuck in a bad spot," Furyk said. "If I still think the golf course is tough, then it sounds like I'm arrogant (because) I'm playing well. And if I say the golf course isn't hard enough -- I'm definitely never going to say that. The back nine, as the sun gets on those greens, as the wind blows, the greens definitely start to get a little firmer, a little bit faster, getting a little trickier. I'm expecting tomorrow to be a very difficult day, golf-course-wise."

Furyk said he couldn't recall sleeping on a three-shot advantage in any tournament, much less the U.S. Open. His first major is his to lose. But Furyk doesn't excite easily. He walks with a mortician's calm. He doesn't appear to rattle.

"I've always wanted to win a major championship, but as far as a weight on me, or has it been taxing for me (not to have won), absolutely not," Furyk said. "If I'm standing up here 10 years from now and haven't won, I can accept that and I'll be fine."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.



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