Golf

Win or lose, Furyk's a fighter

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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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PITTSFORD, N.Y.

No golfer has taken more knockout punches lately than Jim Furyk.

He imploded at last year’s U.S. Open, threw up on himself at the final hole of the Bridgestone Invitational a month later and then, of course, there was the Ryder Cup debacle at Medinah.

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This year he missed the cut at both the U.S. and British Opens.

He’s bloodied, but like Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull," he won't go down.

And now he’s at it again, leading the PGA Championship at Oak Hill by a single stroke after a typically gutsy round of 68 on Saturday.

Be sure, he knows what everyone’s thinking: Here we go again.

Yesterday’s man.

“I know someone is going to mention that I’m 43 and that I’m old and how many more chances am I going to have?” he said Saturday.

“You know, I’m not in the grave yet.”

And even if he had one foot in the grave, he wouldn’t stop fighting.

For there’s no surrender in this guy; he’s either going to win his second major — 10 years after his first, the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in Chicago — or he’s going to die trying.

That’s who he is: that’s how they breed them in the Steel Town.

“My parents grew up in Pittsburgh and my grandparents were mill workers,” he said.

“I learned a great work ethic from my parents, and they learned that from their parents.

“It’s part of Pittsburgh. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but go out there and give it your best.

“And play hard.”

And he does play hard.

Tiger Woods loves Furyk.

Woods has always loved the grinders more than those born with talent, and there’s no bigger grinder in professional golf than Furyk.

Woods likes to say that Furyk wasn’t anywhere near the best player on his college team at Arizona, but armed with a strange swing, guts and determination, made himself into a probable Hall of Famer.

“I had a different swing, I putted cross-handed, I played the game maybe what looked a little unorthodox to most people, but I guess I consider myself a pretty tough player, and I consider myself someone that really believes in themselves,” he said.

“There’s always people on your team, but it feels lonely out there, at times. You always have to believe in yourself, and that’s probably one of my strengths.”

That belief is constantly being tested, for golf torments men.

It’s tested on the course, where, Furyk admitted, earlier this year he was “tired and probably a little angry.”

“I wasn’t having a lot of fun,” he said.

“It’s hard to play like that. I made a conscious effort months ago to kind of turn it around.”

He’s noticed the difference, he said, not when he’s playing well — for we’re all happy when it’s going swimmingly — but when the breaks aren’t going his way.

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“I got off to a bad start today and was able to shrug it off,” he said. “I think that’s why I turned a two-over start into a two-under finish.”

His patience is tested, too, off the course.

Ever since he showed up on the leaderboard on Thursday — after missing the cuts at both the U.S. and British Opens — Furyk’s had to deal with questions about his failings.

He’s carefully explained that failure goes hand-in-hand with a golfer’s life.

And that it’s nothing new.

“I look back to the '98 Masters; I bogeyed 15 and hit it in the water and lost by two,” he said. “[In the] '98 (British Open at) Birkdale I was tied for the lead coming down the stretch and didn't hit one bad shot and lost by two because I didn't knock in a putt.

“U.S. Open at Winged Foot, the U.S. Open at Oakmont, the U.S. Open at Olympic; there's always … opportunities. There's a handful of guys that feel like they should have won a tournament: shoulda, coulda. Yeah, it's disappointing, but it's like ... this sport beats you up.

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“If I played 25 events a year and I win one event a year for my entire career, you would be a hell of a player, you won over 20 times on the PGA Tour and you're going to lose 24 times a year.

“You've got to take your lumps.”

And so he’ll go out there in the final group on Sunday and he’ll fight the good fight.

Jim Furyk might not be the last man standing at Oak Hill, but I guarantee this: He will not go gently.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk

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