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Furyk solves U.S. Open penal code with style to fit the conditions

by | Senior Golf Columnist
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Jim Furyk is gunning for his second U.S. Open title. (Getty Images)  
Jim Furyk is gunning for his second U.S. Open title. (Getty Images)  

SAN FRANCISCO -- In midsentence, Graeme McDowell abruptly changed directions, sort of like a putt on one of the Olympic Club's notoriously unpredictable greens.

He was trying to lob a laudatory remark toward his playing partner in the first two rounds of the 112th U.S. Open, Jim Furyk, and realized that he was using a term that sounded more like a backhanded compliment.

"I don't like the word plodder -- it's kind of a little bit disrespectful," McDowell said. "You got to take your shots on, but play safe. So I think that's the kind of guy he is."

No offense taken.

112th U.S. Open: Round 2
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In fact, at events like this, Furyk is both a plotter and a plodder and doesn't mind that characterization one iota. In fact, it's perhaps the main reason he seems to show up so consistently on the leaderboard at one of the toughest tournaments on the planet.

"Plod, I think, is a good word," Furyk shrugged. "You take what the course gives you and play the best you can from there."

The 42-year-old veteran has been connecting the dots in vintage fashion, to be sure. The 2003 U.S. Open champion has posted rounds of 70 and 69 and surely has the résumé to handle the stress and duress that a major can offer on the weekend.

Especially this one, which is about as enjoyable as chewing sand.

"I don't think it affects him," said Nick Watney, who teamed with Furyk while the latter was going 5-0 at the Presidents Cup last fall. "He's very steady emotionally."

He's not bad from an execution standpoint, either.

"That's kind of the chicken and the egg thing," Watney laughed.

After a 2011 season filled with goose eggs, in the offseason Furyk changed his equipment and worked hard on his physical conditioning and putting. In fact, Furyk is coming off consecutive career years.

He won three times in 2010, including the $10 million bonus and the FedEx Cup finale, easily his most successful season to date. Then, last year, he went off the rails and didn't really contend, finishing 53rd on the money list, his worst full season since he was a rookie.

But he has been creeping up leaderboards for the past five months, regaining traction and confidence, and nobody has a better brain for this particular brand of brutality.

Just ask McDowell. "You've got to play Jim Furyk golf," said McDowell, the 2010 Open winner.

"I'm flattered," Furyk said.

For the others, it might be more like flattened.

Furyk has played in 18 previous Opens, with a stroke average of 72.5. That, in itself, screams at high volume that he has figured out how to throttle back his brain for the demands and challenges that the event presents. Small wonder he had finished in the top 10 five times and thrice in the top three. He was T14 at the Olympic Club when the Open was last played here in 1998.

"I do enjoy 70 being a good round of golf," Furyk said.

This week, that's a full leap beyond "good."

As Furyk was dissecting the course in tactical style, more than a few bombers were flaming out.

"It can snowball very quickly here," Furyk said. "It's tough to kind of put a tourniquet on it and stop the bleeding and get the momentum changed back in the right direction."

The best way is to not let the momentum go the wrong way in the first place. He has three bogeys in two days, a remarkable average on a course where the margin of error is thinner than a blade of fescue. On the Olympic Club stretch where scar tissue is waiting to form -- Nos. 1-6 -- he's 1 under for the week.

"I guess you have to realize at the U.S. Open, par is a really good score and you're going to make some bogeys," he said. "And when I'm patient, when I'm playing well, I've had some success here.

"A lot of it, you just really, mentally, have to be in a good frame of mind, and physically you have to be on top of a lot of areas of your game. But keeping the ball in the fairway is of the utmost importance, and when I'm playing well I do a good job of those things."

Furyk is a fairly straight-laced guy, but he has a sneaky sense of humor. Somebody asked how he continually manages to adapt to the Open conditions, which as he put it, "are draining, mentally and physically."

Furyk actually laughed. Never a bad reaction when things are this penal.

"You don't have a choice," he said.

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