By Joe Gordon, The Boston Herald
The kinder and gentler 103rd U.S. Open unfolded at Olympia Fields Country Club as a triumph of individuality over conformity, and not simply because champion Jim Furyk's unique swing was the antithesis of the cookie cutter products of the latest swing gurus to captivate the practice tee.
The first Open at Olympia Fields since Johnny Farrell beat Bobby Jones in a 1928 playoff, this event was characterized from the opening round by an almost spiritual display of the unrelenting pursuit of seemingly unattainable professional and personal goals. The individuals who pursued them were clearly embraced by galleries which rode the rails from Chicago and took buses from the suburbs to see the game's best and wound up staring squarely into the face of the game's most courageous.
It took fortitude for Furyk to stick with the home-made swing he developed and perfected under the watchful eye of his father, Mike, a one-time club professional, who brought up his son in Pennsylvania and helped deflect suggestions that unless the youngster tightened up the looping move in his takeaway he'd never win anything. True, Furyk, 33, had never before claimed any of golf's majors among his seven previous PGA Tour wins since joining golf's elite in 1994. However, Furyk had finished in the top-10 in 12 other majors, including ties for fifth in the U.S. Open in 1995 and 1996.
Furyk, a perennial Ryder Cup player, was flirting with the unwanted label as the best player without a major, so when he three-putted the 72nd hole from 50 feet for a final-round two-over-par 72 which brought his total to 272, good for a five-stroke win over Aussie Stephen Leaney, the victory was not totally unexpected. The 272 tied Jack Nicklaus, Lee Janzen and Tiger Woods for the lowest score ever made in a U.S. Open. Nobody got any closer to Furyk in the final round than the female streaker who offered him flowers on the 11th green.
Furyk entered the final round with a three-stroke lead as the first player ever to reach the 54-hole mark at a U.S. Open at 10-under-par. Leaney, who never mounted a significant challenge, also shot 72. The champion simply took what the course gave him. Leaney never forged any closer than three shots, allowing Furyk to make eight pars and a single birdie on the front and increase his lead to five. The lead was three after 13 but Furyk birdied 14 and coasted in, finishing with two bogeys that prevented him from breaking the Open scoring record, but cementing his three-shot win. Furyk, still waiting for the win and all its implications to register, expressed one feeling that didn't require further thought. It was about validation and, on Father's Day, appreciation.
"He's always been my teacher," Furyk said of his father. "He's taken a lot of criticism along the way, which I never heard, because no one is going to criticize a junior player. But he took a beating as my teacher in teaching me my swing. And me making it on Tour was kind of his validation. And this is just a step forward that's something we can share together." Fortitude, like that shown by Furyk as he worked his way towards the trophy some believed he'd never hold, can win golf tournaments.
"I'm elated and overjoyed, but it hasn't sunk in, all that goes with it, what to expect for the next couple of weeks or couple of months. None of winning the U.S. Open has sunk in," said Furyk. "I'm excited my name is going to be on the trophy, it's always going to be on there, you can't take it off once they engrave it. I'm really excited. I'll sit down 40 years from now and think back. It will definitely be the best part of my career, playing-wise, the best part of my life golf-wise, this day will be the best part of that." Courage, on the other hand, should be reserved for matters of life and death.
When 53-year-old legend Tom Watson accepted a special exemption to play in the 2003 Open he already knew his caddie of 30 years, Bruce Edwards, had been diagnosed on January 16 with a fatal disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Watson phoned USGA Executive Director David Fay to ask whether Edwards, still Watson's caddie, could use a power cart. Fay said he had already planned to offer Edwards the chance to become just the second person (player Casey Martin was the first) ever allowed the use of such a cart in the Open. The day before the tournament began Watson reminisced about the 1968 Western Open at Olympia Fields, where, as an 18-year-old amateur contestant, he got his first inkling his golf career had a future. "I want to win this Open for him," said Watson, staring at Edwards, whose speech had already started slurring just six months after the diagnosis. But that didn't stop Edwards from refusing the offer of a cart.
"My legs are good and the adrenaline alone will get me around," said Edwards. "It didn't really surprise me (the offer of the cart) because the USGA has always been fair. They didn't have to do that for me, but they did and I'm very flattered." Watson's wish for the special win seemed prophetic the very next day when the winner of the 1982 Open and seven other majors turned back the clock with four birdies and an eagle on the 458-yard, par-4 12th for a 5-under-par 65 which gave him a share of the first-round lead with journeyman tour player Brett Quigley. The first-round leaders had only two things in common - they both shot 65 and they both had a special relationship with their caddie. Quigley's father, Paul, carried his bag. When the day was done Watson took the podium and explained that he was about to use his "bully pulpit" to advocate for Edwards and all victims of ALS, which generally kills its victims in three years. When he finished speaking on behalf of the desperately-needed funding for what he termed an orphan disease, he spoke of the emotions of the day.
"I didn't start getting emotional until he did," said Watson, who went on to tie for 28th at 4-over-par 284. "The last few holes there were quite a few tears from both of us. It was quite a memory for me to be able to play the last few holes in the U.S. Open, my favorite tournament and the most difficult to win, with my friend and caddie for 30 years, Bruce Edwards. It's a memory that if I shoot 90 tomorrow, I don't care."
Edwards wiped the tears from his eyes and said, "The whole day was emotional because you never know if this is my last one." Almost lost in the emotional whirlwind of the first round was Furyk's opening 67, which put him just two shots back despite having shot a 2-over-par 36 on his first nine (the back side). He was two back of Watson and Quigley, one back of Jay Don Blake and Justin Leonard and even with Leaney. Lurking in the background was the man who had held at least one major trophy at all times since 1998, Tiger Woods.
His even-par 70 consisted of a scrambly six fairways hit but 14 greens in regulation, putting him five shots back in a tie for 25th behind 24 sub-par scores. Woods, who had played just 24 stroke-play rounds on the PGA Tour all year coming into the Open, scraped off the rust and shot a 66 in a second round that produced more impressive records than Elvis. Another rugged individualist, Vijay Singh, who drew the wrath of golf fans when he complained in May that LPGA star Annika Sorenstam shouldn't have been playing in the PGA Tour's Bank of America Colonial, shot a 63 in tying the all-time low score for a round in not only the U.S. Open but in any major golf championship. His 133 put him in a tie with Furyk, whose bogey-free 66 meant both Singh and Furyk had set the U.S. Open 36-hole scoring record at 133 on a day when the lowest cut in Open history came at 3-over-par 143. The second round included 38 sub-par scores (nine off the record) and an all-time record low scoring average for the second round at 71.9.
Singh listened to catcalls much of the second round. When his approach shot on the 14th landed just four feet from the stick, one spectator yelled, "it would have gone in if Annika hit it." When Singh's caddie Dave Renwick challenged the spectator, who made a threatening move, the spectator was ejected as Singh clearly waved good-bye with his putter. "I was just waving at my caddie," said Singh, who stonewalled attempts to get his reaction on record.
It was gloomy weather preceded by heavy early-week rain that had rendered Olympia Fields defenseless in the first two rounds, after which 26 players were under par for 36 holes and critics were bellowing that the 75 years since the last Open was held at Olympia Fields in 1928 wasn't long enough. Woods, meanwhile, had taken a step towards his ninth major, which would put him halfway through his quest to match the record 18 professional majors won by Jack Nicklaus. The putter was the difference between Woods' opening 70 and the second-round 66. He required just 25 rolls of the ball. That would be the last round of this championship in which his putter worked as well. He required 35 and 32 in the last two rounds and shot 75 and 72 for a quiet 3-over-par 283 and a tie for 20th.
"I had a tough time getting the (green) speed right this week," said Woods on Sunday, when the course dried out and finally played like an Open venue. The final count on 72-hole sub-par scores was four. "I never hit it close where I had a lot of makeable putts. The greens firmed up." There was redemption for Leaney, if not an Open trophy. Furyk earned $1.08-million and entrance to the exclusive club comprised of winners of major championships. Leaney, who began his quest Sunday with a bogey, birdied two and four and then added two more deadly bogeys on eight and nine, earned respect and enough money, $650,000, to claim his playing privileges on the PGA Tour next year. "Well, it's obviously a situation that I wasn't used to, but I thought I handled it pretty well," Leaney said of playing in the final pairing the final day of the U.S. Open. "I just missed a couple of fairways, which put my short game under pressure. But the birdies on two and four kept me in the game a little bit.
"I've had a great week. I was surprised that -- well, not surprised but I thought I handled the pressure very well. My golf game certainly didn't fall apart, not that I expected it to. But it's nice to go into that situation and watch guys go backwards. Most guys were having a hard time. But it was good that I was able to hang on there." Masters winner Mike Weir again proved his mettle in a major. He tied for third with Kenny Perry at 1-under with Perry shooting a weekend low 36 holes of 135. Justin Rose, Fredrik Jacobson, David Toms, Ernie Els and Nick Price, who shot 64 on Saturday and 75 on Sunday, tied for fifth at even-par 280.
|U.S. OPEN SCOREBOARD|
|T53||Charles Howell III||70-73-74-71-288||8-over|
|Trip Kuehne (am)||74-67-76-73-290|
|Ricky Barnes (am)||71-71-79-70-291|
|T64||Jay Don Blake||66-77-75-75-293||13-over|