LAKE FOREST, Ill. — With a shot at golf’s magic number, Jim Furyk had no trouble finishing the job.
Furyk birdied two of his last three holes Friday in the BMW Championship to become the sixth player in PGA Tour history to shoot a 59. Needing a birdie on the par-4 ninth hole at Conway Farms, he stuffed a gap wedge into just over 3 feet and calmly knocked it in.
“A very cool card,” Furyk said as he gazed at the scores, which included an eagle when he holed out with a 9-iron.
It was a day he won’t forget, in the same town – the Chicago suburbs, anyway – where he won his lone major at the U.S. Open in 2003.
Standing in the ninth fairway, 103 yards from a front pin, Furyk didn’t want to let his chance get away from him.
“I said, ‘How many opportunities are you going to have in life to do this again?’” he said. “Got to take advantage of it. Tried to knock it in there tight and make it as easy on yourself as you can.”
The gallery lined both sides of the fairway about 150 yards down from the green and gave him a huge ovation when he walked onto the green. One fan screamed out, “Jimmy, I’ll give it to you!” Furyk smiled and waved at him.
He made the putt and repeatedly pumped his fist, turning for the gallery in the grandstands to see, and then he hugged caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan and tapped him on the head. It looked like a Sunday afternoon, and had the occasion of a winning putt.
“I guess the moment kind of struck me the most at No. 9 when I hit it, the wedge shot, in there close, and the crowd erupted and I started looking around and it just hit me how many people had come over to that side to see the finish and how excited the crowd was,” Furyk said. “It was kind of like winning a golf tournament to be honest with you. It made it that much more fun.”
There’s work left for the trophy.
Furyk is tied for the lead with Brandt Snedeker, who was nine shots clear of Furyk at the start of the second round and shot 68.
Snedeker knew Furyk was closing in on the lead. He just didn’t realize Furyk had opened with 72 and was
on his way to a piece of history. That changed when Snedeker saw a video board as he was finishing on No. 18 that Furyk needed a birdie on No. 9 for 59.
“I thought, ‘What the heck? Are you serious? There’s no way,” Snedeker said. “On a day like this when the wind is blowing 20 mph out of the north, I don’t think anybody out here saw that score coming.”
The next best score in the second round was 65 by Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker. Zach Johnson is alone in third after 70, three shots behind.
It was the first 59 on the PGA Tour since Stuart Appleby at The Greenbrier Classic in 2010.
For a change, everything went right at the end. Furyk has been haunted the past two years with a bogey on the 16th hole that cost him a shot at the 2012 U.S. Open, a double bogey at Firestone last year that kept him from winning a World Golf Championship, a bogey-bogey finish in the Ryder Cup to lose a key match to Garcia last year in Chicago, and a one-shot lead he failed to hold in August at the PGA Championship.
Making it worse, he was left off a U.S. team for the first time in 15 years when Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples did not make him a wild-card selection.
On this day, Furyk gave Couples 59 reasons to reconsider.
Furyk described himself as “grouchy” on Thursday after having breakfast with two friends, Steve Stricker and Johnson, who were talking about the Presidents Cup.
“But I felt like last night I kind of kicked myself in the rear end and said, ‘You know, it’s done with. It’s over with. There’s nothing I can do to change it now. It’s over and let’s just focus on this week.’”
Furyk was striking the ball so well in the windy conditions – he hit every fairway and missed only one green – that he made only three putts longer than 12 feet, including a 15-foot par putt on the 16th hole. He opened with three straight birdies, holed out from the fairway on the 15th for an eagle, finished with two birdies and had a 28 on his card.
Furyk realized a 4 under on the front nine would give him that magic number. It looked promising when he rolled in a 25-foot birdie on the third, and his 4-iron on the fourth hole bounced toward the flag and settled 5 feet away. He was 11 under through 13 holes, needing one more birdie.
And then he three-putted for bogey from 30 feet.
The key to his round might have come at No. 7, when he holed a birdie putt from just inside 12 feet to get back to 11 under.
Two holes, one birdie, and a 59. Even in the FedEx Cup playoffs, the math was that simple. And he knew with a par 5 at the eighth and a front pin on the ninth, he would have two good chances. He came up short of the green on No. 8 and made par, and then played the ninth to perfection.
Brian Davis, who had finished an hour earlier, came back to the ninth green to watch Furyk finish. Johnson finished when Furyk still had two holes to play and was told about his bid for 59.
“He’s on No. 8 to go to 59? I don’t have anything to say about that. That is ridiculous,” Johnson said.
Furyk signed his glove with “59” and the date beneath his signature for the World Golf Hall of Fame. He signed leftover golf balls for the volunteers helping his group. And then, he reached into his pocket and pulled out another golf ball.
“That’s the one that went in on 9,” he said with a grin. “And it’s staying with me.”