Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods staged one of the most memorable playoffs in Firestone Country Club’s history 11 years ago. If Furyk maintains this pace, he won’t need a playoff this time.
Furyk and Woods continued trending in opposite directions Friday during the second round of the Bridgestone Invitational. Thanks to a blistering putter, Furyk shot 4 under Friday to move to 11 under for the tournament, 2 strokes ahead of Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello and 3 shots ahead of South African Louis Oosthuizen. Woods struggled with his putter most of the day and tumbled to 2 over and tied for 44th in the field after beating Furyk in a thrilling seven-hole playoff here in 2001.
“I didn’t think it was that great,” Furyk quipped Friday.
It was the putter that sabotaged Furyk’s season last year, and it’s the putter that has him storming the field. He sank birdie putts on Nos. 2, 6, 9, 12 and 13, made a tough par save on 10 on a difficult green breaking left to right downhill and added another difficult par putt on 14 with a tricky 10-footer.
Furyk’s putter abandoned him last year, when he managed just two top-10 finishes until the Presidents Cup in November. He briefly toyed with a belly putter but quickly discarded it. He struggled reading greens and still struggles on slower greens, preferring quicker greens like Firestone’s.
“I putted horrible last year, I’ll be the first one to admit it,” he said. “My eye and the way I read putts, I kind of read things to really break and feed into a hole, and it just doesn’t happen as much on slow greens. You have to take some break out, and I just don’t see that as well.”
Something changed for him at the Presidents Cup in November in Australia, putting on the fastest greens he has seen in his career. He putted “lights out,” he said, and became the fourth player in Cup history to go 5-0. He carried that momentum over to a sixth-place finish in the Chevron World Challenge two weeks later to close the season.
He is seeking his first victory since 2010, and he’s off to a terrific start. His 11-under 129 marks the lowest opening 36-hole total of his career. He was one of the last golfers off the course after a late Thursday afternoon tee time, and he was one of the first off Friday morning.
“I think the mindset really was kind of forget about what happened on Thursday and just try to go out there and shoot a good number and put myself in a good position for the weekend,” he said. “Probably a little easier to keep the momentum going that way than having an early time on Thursday morning, having a good round and having to sit on it until Friday afternoon.”
Furyk is being pursued by Cabrera-Bello and Oosthuizen, who each carded a 5 under to tie for the day’s best round.
Cabrera-Bello is a relative unknown who staved off Lee Westwood this year to win the Dubai Desert Classic for his second career victory. This week marks his first trip to Ohio.
“Easy is not the word; it just went smooth the entire round,” said Cabrera-Bello, who has battled stomach issues this week. “I didn’t know what to expect because obviously this is the first year in my schedule playing major tournaments. They are very demanding, and you need to be playing good throughout the entire bag.”
Oosthuizen managed a bogey-free round that he completed with birdies on four of his last eight holes to pull into third, 3 shots behind Furyk. It could’ve been even better if not for some problems reading the greens.
“I struggled on a few lines to get the lines and speeds right,” Oosthuizen said. “I think speeds on these greens are crucial. You can get really fast putts, and I think once you get uphill putts, you have to be careful not to hit it by.”
There is a slight chance of pop-up thunderstorms for this afternoon, which could slow the greens and impact the rounds of the leaders. A little rain and slower greens might be the only factors that could slow Furyk this weekend. But if the rain holds off and the winds pick up, the greens could get even tougher.
“If the wind picks up and the greens get faster, this place will show a little bit more teeth than we’ve seen so far,” Furyk said.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.