Furyk becomes the marked man
Golf:The first salvo of the 39th Ryder Cup was fired by the unlikeliest of trigger men, Jim Furyk, who said Rory McIlroy, the world No. 1 from Europe, would be a “marked man.”
He later said his words had been taken out of context, that what he meant was McIlroy had the target on his back at the Tour Championship because he came into the FedEx Cup playoff finale ranked number one in points.
“I promise you,” Furyk said Saturday night, when the Americans’ prospects for reclaiming the Ryder Cup looked hale and the team mood was buoyant, “I’m not one to incite the other team or give them any bulletin-board material, and I’m pretty sure most of them over there know that about me, anyway.”
As the singles matches unfolded Sunday at Medinah Country Club, the bull’s-eye found the back of Furyk, the only golfer on the 12-man US team without a PGA Tour victory this year, a well-liked veteran who was selected for inclusion by captain, Davis Love, with one of his four discretionary picks.
Perhaps the only players who can relate to the pressure felt by McIlroy, whom everybody loves to knock off, are the captain’s picks, whose inclusion everybody loves to second-guess. For those who didn’t play their way onto the team, there’s an extra burden to justify their inclusion.
For Furyk, his moment of reckoning came on the par-3 17th hole of his match, the eighth (contest) of the day, against the Spaniard Sergio Garcia. With victories in the first five matches, the Europeans had put the US celebration on hold.
Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson, the Americans in the sixth and seventh matches, earned points to stem the bleeding, and now Furyk had a chance to be the tourniquet. He was one up and facing an uphill par putt of inside 10 feet. Furyk, a 16-time tour winner and former US Open champion, had missed clutch putts on the way to heartbreaking losses at this year’s U.S. Open and the World Golf Championship event in Ohio.
His shakiness on the greens was the main argument against his Ryder Cup selection, but there he was, belly down, studying a putt for redemption. Furyk’s attempt slid past the cup, and Garcia won the hole with a par to square the match.
At the par four, 18th, Furyk drove into a fairway bunker, and his approach rolled off the green. From 45 feet, he putted within a few feet and missed his par try. Garcia made par to seal a one up victory and give Europe a 13-12 lead, setting the stage for Martin Kaymer’s Cup-clinching victory against Steve Stricker.
Furyk stood several yards in front of the 18th green, alongside a group of his US teammates and their wives, as Kaymer stood on the green, bent over a six foot putt for everything: the match, the Ryder Cup and his own personal redemption after a dismal year.
With time seemingly standing still, Furyk dug his hands into his pants pockets and stared at the scoreboard behind the green, which showed the results of all the matches. All around the green, raucous European fans were waving flags and chanting, the scene more reminiscent of a soccer match in England than a golf tournament in America.
Kaymer’s putt rolled true, and after it disappeared in the cup, Furyk looked around, his own expression blank as he took in the celebrating European players and their fans. A cameraman rushing to get a shot of the scene ploughed into Furyk, who looked dazed.
The golfer wordlessly stepped around him and then dodged a photographer who was hurrying by him. He found Stricker, another captain’s pick, and they hugged. Furyk then hugged Phil Mickelson and Love before slipping his wife’s hand into his.
Together, they headed toward the clubhouse. As he walked off the green, Furyk was stopped by Paul McGinley, a vice captain of the European team and the likely successor to this year’s captain, Jose Maria Olazabal.
In 2002, when the Europeans won at The Belfry in England, McGinley and Furyk halved their singles match. McGinley drew Furyk, who went 1-2 here, into his embrace and whispered a few words of encouragement before letting him go. “I just said I was sorry what happened out there," McGinley said. “I feel bad for the Americans, to be honest.”
Furyk walked up the stairs and over the bridge, and when he came into view on the other side, one of the fans ringing the practice green shouted, “Way to go, Jimmy. Hold your head high.”
Before the competition began, Furyk said every player dreams of being the one to decide the Ryder Cup, knowing full well that failure is the flip side of success. “It’s something that you have to accept,” he said, adding, “You just have to be able to accept the fact that sometimes it turns out good, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
New York Times