ATLANTA — This should serve as a wake-up call for Jim Furyk: He’s tied for the lead at the Tour Championship, and very much in the hunt for the US$10 million FedEx Cup prize.
Furyk played bogey-free on the back nine at East Lake for a 5-under 65 on Friday, giving him a share of the 36-hole lead with Luke Donald heading into a weekend of dwindling possibilities.
A two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year, Furyk began the playoffs at No. 3 in the standings. But in the opening event at The Barclays, he was disqualified for missing his pro-am when the alarm didn’t go off. He slipped six spots, and didn’t scare anyone the next two weeks to fall to No. 11.
But with the top players in the standings starting to fade, Furyk only has to win at East Lake to collect the biggest payoff in golf.
“It’s a bunch of money,” Furyk said. “The only thing I can really control is to go out and play good on the weekend, try to win the golf tournament. And at that point, there’s nothing else I can do about it.”
Furyk has a chance to join Tiger Woods as the only FedEx Cup champion to skip the first playoff event, although it wasn’t by choice.
“I’d like to join him with about 16 majors, too,” Furyk said. “But that doesn’t look like it’s in the cards.”
Going into the weekend, the deck is stacked in his favour.
Donald did a great job scrambling whenever he struggled off the tee, and pieced together another 66 to join Furyk at 8-under 132. One shot behind was Geoff Ogilvy, who had seven birdies in his round of 67.
Ogilvy’s biggest concern was the Australian Rules Football grand final in Melbourne with his beloved St. Kilda going for only its second championship. He planned to watch the game and worry about sleep some other night.
Saturday’s third round, with tee times moved up because of NBC Sports’ obligation to Notre Dame football, could determine whether this FedEx Cup finale is a three-man race.
Ogilvy, at 7-under 133, was the only player within four shots of the leaders. K.J. Choi did well to stay close by knocking in a 45-foot birdie putt on the par-3 18th, one of only seven birdies on that hole through two rounds.
Phil Mickelson’s hopes were fading. He had a chance to become the first repeat winner of the Tour Championship, and even a runner-up finish would be enough to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world ranking. Mickelson, however, had a 72 and was tied for 13th, nine shots out of the lead.
Paul Casey, getting plenty of attention for his Ryder Cup snub, had a share of the lead at various times during the hot afternoon until a sloppy finish, making bogeys on this last three holes for a 71. That put him in the group at 3-under 137.
Casey is No. 5 in the standings — the highest-seeded player without a victory this year — and he could wind up a FedEx Cup champion with a runner-up finish depending on how top-seeded Matt Kuchar fares.
“If I want to get up there and challenge those guys, I’m going to have to hit it a lot better than I did today,” Casey said.
Furyk was in that spot a year ago — a chance to win the FedEx Cup without winning on tour that year. He was a stronger contender this year with his victories at Innisbrook and Hilton Head. But then he lost ground with his pro-am blunder. Furyk headed home to Florida, making no excuses for his battery dying in a cellphone that he used for an alarm.
The tour changed its pro-am policy a week later after an outcry by just about every player except him.
“It was my fault,” Furyk said. “If I whined or complained or anything about the rule, it’s just going to make me look worse. My peers actually did plenty of that for me.”
He got plenty of sympathy, followed by plenty of grief.
“Hundreds of people told me that I was going to get alarm clocks for Christmas,” Furyk said.
He could afford plenty of those depending on how the rest of the week goes. He has made only one bogey through 36 holes, that coming on the seventh hole Friday when he missed the green to the right and missed a 7-foot par putt.
All he is thinking about his a good round Saturday, another one Sunday then figure out where he is.
“Yesterday I said all I want to do was think about the next day, try to shoot a round in the 60s,” Furyk said. “I’ll be doing the same thing tonight — try to shoot another round in the 60s and put myself in the hunt.”
That’s not a simple task at East Lake, which is such a stern test that it doesn’t take much for a round in the 60s to wind up over par. Kuchar had to play one shot on the 17th hole with his feet in the water and scrambled for a 70, leaving him in a tie for 15th at 2-over 142.
Charley Hoffman, the surprise winning in Boston to get to No. 3 in the standings, rallied with a 67 and was among the nine players still under par. He was at 2-under 138. The other players in the top five in the FedEx Cup — they only have to win to capture the prize — were Dustin Johnson (71) at 144 and Steve Stricker (68) at 142.
Donald hasn’t won on the U.S. tour all year, but he is showing great form with the Ryder Cup looming. It wasn’t the fairways-and-greens golf for which Donald is known, but it was good enough for a share of the lead.
“The short game on the back nine kind of kept my score together,” he said.