PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Jim Furyk lost in a playoff a year ago at the Tampa Bay Championship and had no reason to feel as though he threw one away. Luke Donald simply beat him and two others with a 7-iron out of the rough to 6 feet for birdie on the first extra hole.
Furyk just had no idea it would be the start of the worst kind of trend.
He had three more chances to win that year, and came up empty. There was that snap hook off the 16th tee that dropped him out of a tie for the lead at the U.S. Open, and he never caught up. He had a one-shot lead and was in the middle of the 18th fairway at Firestone when he made double bogey and lost by one. He had a share of the 54-hole lead at Sea Island and finished two shots behind.
Furyk figured the best way to get over it was to forget about it.
This was different from the last time he had a sour taste in his mouth at the end of the year. This was more mental than physical.
Coming off his biggest year – three wins and the FedEx Cup – in 2010, Furyk had only three top 10s against full fields the following year and was No. 53 on the money list, his lowest position since he was a rookie.
“I really had a chip on my shoulder to get back after it and to improve and get back to playing the type of golf that I had in years past,” Furyk said Wednesday. “So I worked really hard more mechanically on my game. I worked out a lot trying to get stronger. But I was very driven.”
And after last year?
“I really tried to get away for a while,” he said. “I was really happy with a lot of things I did well in 2012, but it was going to be a frustrating, disappointing year to look back on with the finishes, and not being able to finish things off.”
Furyk has played only four times this year going into the Tampa Bay Championship, which starts today at Innisbrook. He has played well, with a tie for 13th at Riviera and losing in 22 holes at Match Play Championship to Bubba Watson.
He is playing Innisbrook for the fifth year in a row, and he won the event in 2010.
The Tampa Bay Championship gets overlooked as the third leg of the Florida Swing. So much attention is on the Honda Classic, which was boosted by its spot on the schedule between two World Golf Championships, and is helped by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy playing because they live in south Florida. The WGC event was last week at Doral. The Arnold Palmer Invitational is next week at Bay Hill.
Innisbrook is a gem, however, considered by many players to be the best tournament course in Florida. It features surprising changes in elevation, especially for Florida. Water only comes into play on seven holes. The fairways have subtle movement and are lined by trees, and the course typically is firm and fast.
It has produced a varied mix of winners – Donald and his exquisite short game a year ago and the power of Gary Woodland the year before. Vijay Singh won Tampa during his nine-win season in 2004. Retief Goosen with his pure putting stroke was rewarded in 2009.
“It’s a golf course you have to really think your way around, shape some shots off the tee,” Donald said. “It really does test all parts of your game from tee shots to really getting the iron shots in the right positions on the greens, which are some of the most sloped and fast greens we play all year. And they are very quick right now. It’s a thinking man’s course.”
Four of the top 10 players in the world – Donald, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar – are at the Tampa Bay Championship, with 21 of the top 50. The list includes Geoff Ogilvy, who at No. 49 is still searching for that one good week that will lock up a spot in the Masters Tournament.
And there are plenty of newcomers this week, with four players getting into the tournament because of finishing in the top 10 at the Puerto Rico Open last week. That includes 19-year-old Jordan Spieth and Peter Uihlein, who last played here in 2011 as the U.S. Amateur champion.
Furyk is playing for the fourth time in five weeks, though he plans to shut it down until a week before the Masters. Donald is making his last PGA Tour start before the Masters, though he will be going to the Malaysian Open next week.
Furyk would love to win before going to Augusta National, though it has nothing to do with redemption from this tournament last year, or any event last year.
“I’d like to win soon, but whether that’s this week or this year, we’ll see,” he said. “That’s why you go play and that’s the joy of preparing and getting ready. What’s behind me is behind me. I have no issues with that.”