Cook: Furyk has a lot going for him in Open

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You know what's great about Jim Furyk? Aside from the fact that he's the third-ranked golfer in the world? The pressure doesn't scare him. He loves that he's among the favorites to win the 107th U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club this week, probably a more popular choice than anyone but Tiger Woods, who's always the chalk pick. You think Furyk is going to run from that? Not a chance. He all but said he'd bet on himself, too.

"There's a big difference in thinking you can win and knowing you can win in a big event."

Like Tiger, the man knows.

It's not so much Furyk's win at the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields Country Club that makes him so confident, although that doesn't hurt. If you beat the best and the rest to win our national championship under the toughest conditions in golf, it makes the point, rather convincingly, that you have game.

It's not Furyk's hometown advantage, either, although his ties to the area are strong. His father, Mike, 60 and still his coach, grew up in Lower Burrell and was head pro at Uniontown Country Club before he moved the family to Lancaster when Jim was 8. His mother, Linda, is from Natrona Heights. He still has relatives in Library, Cheswick and Oakmont. The man is a die-hard Steelers fan, for goodness sake. All of that should make for some ovation when he's introduced to the fans on the No. 10 tee box at 1:36 p.m. Thursday, playing in a spectacular first-round grouping with Phil Mickelson and up-and-coming Aussie Adam Scott.

It's Oakmont. "I think it's a good course for me," Furyk said. He has played it only a few times, once right out of college at the University of Arizona, as a PGA tour rookie at the '94 Open when he finished tied for 28th in his first major, winning Frank Fuhrer's final Family House Invitational in '97 by edging another hometown player, Rocco Mediate, by two strokes, and, most recently, putting in a practice day two weeks ago.

"The U.S. Open usually favors guys who keep the ball in play and keep it in front of them," Furyk said. "Oakmont really has that feel. It's very tight right now. A lot of those fairways aren't on level lies. They're tilted one way or another. You have to work the ball to keep the ball in the fairway and hit a lot of shots. Those are my strengths. I'm happy it favors my style of game."

The first thing you notice about Furyk, a 12-time tour winner, is his loopy swing. The next thing is how well he controls the ball with that crazy form, which gives him an advantage over Mickelson and maybe even Woods on what Furyk calls "as penal a golf course as we ever play. There are just so many places where you can be in jail on the golf course. You really have to bring your 'A' game for that place."

Furyk thought he had that packed in his suitcase when he left for the Memorial last weekend at Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village Golf Club. He had lost in a playoff to Rory Sabbatini the week before at the Colonial, putting an end to his annoying slump. After having three top-six finishes in the year's first four events, his best effort in his next seven tournaments was a tie for 13th at the Masters. He even missed the cut at the Heritage and the Wachovia Championship.

And after finishing tied for 23rd at the Memorial?

"I didn't control the ball as well as I would have liked," Furyk said.

You have no idea.

After shooting a 1-under 71 in the third round, Furyk left the scorer's tent, growling, "I'm in a really, really bad mood right now. I'm going to the range and hit balls." He kept at it for more than an hour.

"I had to get rid of my grouchiness," Furyk said, shrugging, after finally quitting in the gloaming. "I was really happy with the way I played [at the Colonial]. I hit a lot of good iron shots and I controlled the balled very well, which I need to do at Oakmont. This week, I've been a little unhappy with my ball-striking. That's why I'm up here making a couple of adjustments."

Those will continue for Furyk at Oakmont the next three days of practice under his father's knowing eyes. It was Mike Furyk who helped him find his putting stroke after it was awful at the Masters, the Heritage and the Wachovia Championship. The two have learned over the years that good things usually happen when they put their heads together.

"I would like to win the U.S. Open again," Furyk said. "Having my name on that trophy ... Getting that taste once, I would obviously like to get it again."

A win this week would go a long way toward separating Furyk from most of the pack. Only 21 men have won multiple Open titles, including just four -- Woods, Ernie Els, Lee Janzen and Retief Goosen -- in the field this week. But the chance to become No. 22 is not what drives Furyk.

"I'm not real picky about majors," he said. "I'd also like to win the other majors once as well. Any major championship you put my name on, I'll take it."

It still should happen for Furyk; he just turned 37 last month. But history says the U.S. Open is his best chance. He tied for second last year at Winged Foot Golf Club and has two other top-five finishes. His best finish at the Masters is fourth two times, at the British Open fourth three times, at the PGA sixth in '97.

It says here Oakmont is Furyk's best chance of all.

Bet against him at your own risk.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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