After injuring his sternoclavicular joint in last year’s championship at Erin Hills, Furyk wondered whether he would be ready for the challenges presented by the 7,431-yard course.
“I’ve been battling an injury in the center of my chest and collarbone,” Furyk said. “I hurt myself in last year’s U.S. Open hitting out of some rough. It took me a long time just to be able to play golf again, to be honest with you.
“Now that I’m playing, I’m not sure I’m 100 percent. I’m feeling good. When I say not 100 percent, I’m still not hitting the ball. I’m hitting it harder, but I’m not hitting the ball as hard as I would like to, especially with my longer clubs, with the long irons, the woods, driver. I’m not in any pain and feeling like I’m getting speed back.”
Furyk’s average drive of 278.4-yards ranked 65th after three rounds. After each day, his fairways hit improved from eight of 14 on Thursday to 13 of 14 on Saturday—33rd overall.
But the veteran’s putter was money. Furyk was third among the 67 golfers who made the cut when it came to putts-per-greens-in-regulation with an average of 1.57. Consistency was key in Furyk shooting 2 over on Saturday afternoon when the wind parched the greens, leaving the surfaces slick and crusty. Furyk posted four bogeys on his card, but no doubles.
Furyk’s putter—and patience—saved him around greens that drew the ire of many competitors over the first three rounds.
“The pin placements have been very difficult this week,” Furyk said. “I would say on almost every green -- not every green. Nine and 18 are pretty -- you can kind of figure out where the hole locations are going to be. But on some of the more benign holes, if you gave me a dozen shots at where the pin location was going to be, there's a few pins I would not have picked this week. So it's been difficult.
“It's the U.S. Open. You know that they're trying to set this golf course up as close to the edge as possible.”
Unlike some of his fellow golfers, Furyk never let the course get to him. He just played the game.
“I’ve hit enough fairways, and I’ve kept the ball in play and got it around good enough to score,” Furyk said.
Still, the congenial golfer described the 15th Hole as “crusty and bumpy” after Saturday’s round.
“I’m pretty sure that 15 probably isn’t what they were looking for,” Furyk said.
He had a six-foot downhill putt for par on 15. Despite putting “as easy as (he) possibly could,” the ball rolled three feet past the hole. He accepted the bogey and moved on.
When asked when the last time he played under circumstances as tough as Saturday’s, Furyk answer was short and to the point.
“Thursday,” he replied.
The USGA “applied appropriate levels of water” to the greens after Saturday’s rounds and before play on Sunday to provide for better consistency similar to the conditions on Thursday. The greens are expected to be on average 10 to 12 inches slower than rounds 2 and 3. The USGA also created kinder hole locations for Sunday’s final round after reviewing the forecast and additional agronomic data.
The early rounds on Sunday already reflected the adjustments to the course. As well as Furyk played under the harshest conditions here at Shinnecock Hills, and with his game improving by the day, he feels relatively confident rolling into the final.
“We all put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” Furyk said. “I've been disappointed with the way I've played this year. Coming into a golf course like this, knowing how difficult the conditions can be and probably will be, you know, really just focusing on trying to get my game in shape and trying to be able to handle what's going to be in front of me.
“I got a special exemption this week and was very thankful for that and also kind of wanted to try to use that. You know, you look at it two ways. I wanted to kind of use that opportunity and hopefully make something out of it, and this week it's been fun. It was great to wake up this morning and kind of be like, you know, ‘I've got a 1:53 tee time.’ That's pretty cool on a weekend. Haven't been able to do it in a while.
“So I'll get that same opportunity tomorrow and looking forward to some rest and, you know, waking up with the juices flowing, being nervous again and having an opportunity.”
For Furyk, having an opportunity is enough.
(Jim Furyk putting: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)