- Associated Press - Sunday, March 17, 2019

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Jim Furyk was one of the last ones in the field at The Players Championship.

He was the last one with a shot to beat Rory McIlroy.

The 48-year-old Furyk closed with a flurry Sunday, making birdies at two of the last three holes and just missing another at the famed island green. He shot a 5-under 67 in the final round at TPC Sawgrass and finished at 15 under, one shot behind McIlroy .

Furyk played his best golf in nearly three years, since tying for second in the 2016 U.S. Open, and the emotion showed how much it meant. There was the reaction to the near-miss at the 17th. There were two aggressive, follow-through swings. There was the lengthy embrace with 71-year-old caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan. There were the tender moments with friends and family members.

“It’s fun to be home,” said Furyk, who lives just down the road from TPC Sawgrass and eked into the tournament based on FedEx-Cup points. “It’s fun to be in front of the home crowd. I’ve got my family here, a lot of friends. I haven’t been healthy in a lot of years. I haven’t put myself in the heat with really a good opportunity to win a golf tournament in a while, and I missed it.

“I missed the nerves. I missed the excitement, the cheers. And I think the emotion you saw on 18 was just I was proud of the way I played.”

He had every right to be ecstatic.

Furyk probably would have wound up in a three-hole playoff with McIlroy had his curling, 15-footer at the 17th found the cup. It just missed, leaving him with a tap-in par.

“I still can’t believe it didn’t go in,” he said. “That might be the best putt I hit all day, to be honest with you, and that’s why I was backpedaling it. Halfway there, it looked like it was in.”

Nonetheless, Furyk made McIlroy beat him. Furyk’s 7-iron from 170 yards out at No. 18 stopped 3 feet from the flag. He buried the putt for just the ninth birdie Sunday at the closing hole, which was the toughest on the Stadium Course all week, and then waited to see what McIlroy would do.

McIlroy finished par-par to avoid overtime. Furyk settled for second place and $1.35 million, which matched the biggest paycheck of his professional career. He earned the same amount for winning the 2010 Tour Championship.

“I knew how well I was playing and wanted some opportunities to get out there on the golf course,” said Furyk, who plays 15-20 events a year these days so he can spend more time at home. “That’s the way I treated the whole week: really just an opportunity. A shot here, a shot there maybe could have been a little different. But ultimately left it all out there.

“It was also nice to get in contention, to get under the heat, to have to hit shots under a lot of pressure and then to respond well to that and hit some good golf shots. It’ll be a confidence boost going forward. Haven’t been in that position in a while.”

Injuries have plagued him the last few years.

He had wrist surgery in 2016 and sustained chest and collarbone injuries the following year.

He’s healthy now, and it showed at his hometown course.

He fought though some uneasy setups and swings early in the final round to stay in contention. He chipped in for a birdie at the fifth and got up-and-down for par at Nos. 7 and 8.

“I played four holes where I really felt lost and I played them 1-under par,” he said. “That saved my round. I could have easily played those holes 2 or 3 over, and now it’s a different ballgame.”

His only real mistake came on the back when he missed a 3-footer for par at No. 15.

“I’ll try not to beat myself up too much,” he said.

Furyk moved up 110 spots, from 167th to 57th, in the world ranking and qualified for the Match Play in two weeks.

He won’t be able to change his age, but he might be able to sway perception.

“I’m pretty sure my first name is now 48-year-old, my middle name is Jim and my last name is Furyk because I heard that on TV for the last two days,” he said. That’s all I heard, which made me laugh. I don’t take it offensively. I am 48.”


For more AP golf coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Golf

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