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A swing good enough to win the U.S. Open

Posted: Monday, June 16, 2003

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. Say what you want about Jim Furyk's swing. It won him a U.S. Open with a performance that put him in the record books.

The toughest test in golf finally lived up to its reputation Sunday, and Furyk rose to the challenge with a gritty round of 2-over 72 to win his first major championship in a landslide.

Despite bogeys he could afford on the last two holes, Furyk won by three strokes at Olympia Fields and joined Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Janzen with a 272, the lowest 72-hole score in the 103 years of the U.S. Open.

The loopy swing might not be conventional, but the strategy was all too familiar: He sent the ball down the middle of the fairway and no one could catch him.

Furyk led by at least three shots the whole way, but never allowed himself to enjoy the moment until the gallery rose to salute him as he walked up the 18th green.

He missed a 6-foot par putt that would have given him the record outright, but all that mattered was the silver championship trophy waiting for him.

Woods shot 12-under 272 three years ago at Pebble Beach, which played as a par 71. He remains the only player to finish a U.S. Open in double digits under par.

Furyk was on the verge of joining him until he failed to get up-and-down from behind the 17th green, then three-putted from about 40 feet on the final hole.

The two bogeys dropped him to 8-under 272.

Stephen Leaney of Australia, in contention at a major for the first time, fell five strokes behind at the turn and couldn't catch up. He closed with a 72, but his runner-up finish assures him a PGA Tour card for next year.

The only other players under par were Masters champion Mike Weir (71) and Kenny Perry, whose 67 was the best score on the toughest day at Olympia Fields.

Furyk is known as much for his grit as his unorthodox swing, and he relied on that throughout a sunny day south of Chicago. He never flinched the few times he was in trouble. He didn't come unglued when a streaker ran out of the gallery on the 11th green.

When he tapped in for bogey, he dropped his putter and raised his arms, then hugged caddie Mike ''Fluff'' Cowan, who hasn't been in this position since he was on the bag for Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters.

Woods was never a factor, closing with a 72 to tie for 20th. For the first time since 1999, he is not the defending champion at any of the four majors.

''When you're playing bad, it's a lonely world out there,'' Woods said.

When you're hitting fairways and greens with a three-shot lead in the U.S. Open, life couldn't be better.

Just ask Furyk.

''It's beyond some dreams,'' Furyk said on the 18th green, choking back tears as he looked at his father, Mike, who taught him a swing only a mother could love.

Furyk heard the snickers about his swing growing up in western Pennsylvania, as an All-American at Arizona, and even while winning seven times on the PGA Tour.

All he has to do now is show them the U.S. Open trophy.

''He's consistent,'' Woods said. ''You know he's going to hit every fairway and every green when he's playing well.''

The toughest part for Furyk was seeing his father when he arrived Sunday afternoon. He hugged him long and hard, intent on giving him the best Father's Day present available.

They were together on the practice green minutes before the final round began, just like old times the father squatting behind the son, making sure everything was in place.

''Looks good,'' he told his son, and sent him on his way to win a U.S. Open.

Furyk takes the club back on the outside, loops it around and brings it back to the inside. Some say it looks like a one-armed man trying to kill a snake in a phone booth.

No one can fault the results. It held up just fine under the Sunday pressure of a major championship.

When his first tee shot split the middle of the fairway, Furyk was on his way.

Challengers stepped aside quickly.

Vijay Singh birdied the second hole, but lost hope with a drive into the cabbage on the next hole that led to a double bogey.

Singh, who tied the major championship record with a 63 in the second round, made six straight bogeys at one point and finished with a 78.

Nick Price opened with three straight bogeys and was never a factor. He closed with a 75 and tied for fifth at even-par 280 along with Ernie Els and David Toms.

Leaney is the only one who didn't back off, following bogeys with birdies on the first four holes and doing his best to keep Furyk in his sights.

''I guess I'm happy and sad,'' Leaney said. ''I had a very good chance today. He just kept me at arm's length all day.''

Furyk was simply too tough in a final round that required nothing less.

With the sun baking out Olympia Fields on the weekend, and no water on the greens overnight, the U.S. Open finally played like one.

Nineteen players started the final round under par. Only four remained at day's end.

Furyk was steady as ever, and came up with two big par saves early.

His approach from the left rough squirted across the second fairway into more deep grass, and his chip ran through the green. He holed the 20-foot par putt from the fringe to keep his lead at three shots.

Then on the fifth, Furyk missed the fairway and hit his approach into thick rough short of a bunker. After chopping out to 12 feet, the par putt paused at the cup before dropping, and Furyk's smile told how much he got away with one.

Following his round was his wife, Tabitha, who only recently learned she was pregnant with their second child. His parents followed, too, with his dad every bit as nervous as his 33-year-old son.

He never dreamed of this day. A club pro in Uniontown, Pa., he didn't want his son to wind up in the same business, and wouldn't let him play until he was 12.

''Right after he turned 12, he came and asked about it,'' Furyk said as his son played the third hole. ''I had to honor the agreement. So I sucked it up and said, 'OK.'''

It paid off handsomely.

Furyk won $1.08 million for his eighth career victory.



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