- - Sunday, June 24, 2012

The 28-year-old Jim Furyk — all promise and no guarantee that two career victories wasn’t all he had in him — didn’t suffer major misses well.

“Earlier in my career I took losses harder, like the ‘98 Masters,” he once said. “And Birkdale in ‘98 stung even more than the Masters. It really felt like that was mine to win. But I got over it.”

The 37-year-old Furyk — in the prime of his career with a 2003 U.S. Open among his 13 wins — took the close calls more in stride.

“It has not haunted me. I don’t wake up in cold sweats,” Furyk said in 2007, a month after his second consecutive runner-up finish in the U.S. Open. “The last thing I’ve been thinking about the last two weeks is the U.S. Open, and I’m probably a guy who takes that stuff as hard as anyone. But I’m also the kind of guy that says when it’s over, it’s over.”

So how will the 42-year-old Furyk — two years removed from winning PGA Tour Player of the Year and the most recent of his 16 victories — take his latest major heartbreak? He was leading the U.S. Open for 15 holes at The Olympic Club on Sunday before one uncharacteristic snap hook by the tour’s second most accurate driver derailed his bid.

The image of Furyk — crouched with his head bent and his wedge between his teeth on the last hole — will be remembered along with the slumped pictures of Rory McIlroy and Greg Norman in bygone Masters collapses.

“Very. Very,” Furyk said on the podium when asked his level of disappointment. “I don’t know how to put that one into words, but I had my opportunities and my chances and it was right there. It was — on that back nine — it was my tournament to win. … I just wasn’t able to hit that one good golf shot, that one great golf shot that I needed.”

Furyk returns to Congressional Country Club this week along with the AT&T National after a two-year road trip to Aronimink. He missed only his second career U.S. Open cut at Congressional last year, but his Blue Course resume is otherwise exemplary. He tied for fifth in the 1997 U.S. Open here and posted top 10s in all three previous AT&T Nationals played at Congressional from 2007-09 (T3, T3 and T7).

“I always like the old, classic, traditional golf courses,” he said before the last AT&T in Bethesda. “It’s a place that I would always put on my schedule because I think the world of the golf course. I’ve played very well here.”

A Hall of Fame major resume has been within Furyk’s reach so often in the past 15 years it’s easy to lose count. Nineteen times he’s finished top 10 in majors — 11 of them top-fives and a handful of them legitimate opportunities to win.

Only at Olympia Fields in 2003 has he prevailed. He missed a 6-foot putt on the last hole that could have forced a spot in a 2006 playoff at Winged Foot and bogeyed the 71st hole to lose a share of the lead at Oakmont in 2007. Each of those years he bounced back with a slew of ensuing high finishes and won Canadian Opens later in the season.

With maturity comes perspective.

“When you leave the event, it just happened and you’re a little upset,” Furyk said in 2007. “You have to stand up there in front of the media and go through the misery of the last few holes. Then you have to stand on the 18th green for a half-hour while everyone is excited about someone else winning. Your reflection isn’t, ‘Gee, what a wonderful day.’ “

This time, with a closing bogey on 18 at Olympic when he needed a birdie to force a playoff, Furyk fell to fourth and didn’t have to endure witnessing the trophy presentation with gritted teeth. But at 42, he knows the opportunities are more numbered than they once seemed.

“Two years ago, I was the Player of the Year in the United States,” he said. “I played poorly last year, and all of a sudden I’m middle-aged. So I’ve got to be honest with you — that [ticks] me off. Yeah, I think I have a few more good years. I’ve been saying it all year, and I would like to get another opportunity. Whether or not that happens again in a major championship, I don’t know. I know I let one slide today.”

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