Furyk chips in for Nedbank victory

BY iseekgolf.com | Southern Africa Tour | 2005 Nedbank Golf Challenge | Wrap | 05 Dec 2005

Jim Furyk, the man who voluntarily once took himself out of the tournament, got his reward when he won the 2005 Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City on Sunday evening.

America’s Furyk had to go two extra holes in a sudden-death play-off against defending champion Retief Goosen, Darren Clarke and Adam Scott before chipping in from the back of the 18th green to claim the winner’s cheque of US$1.2 million.

It was the eighth time the tournament ended in a deadlock after 72 holes and the first time more than two players ended up in the play-off.

In an electric atmosphere the play-off for the first time started on the difficult 18th and at the first asking defending champion Goosen was the man who dropped out when he three-putted from below the slope.

Furyk, who had missed a par putt on the 72nd green that might have given him outright victory, missed the best chance for birdie while Clarke got up-and-down from the bunker and Scott holed a tricky putt after blasting out of the thick kikuyu to the right of the green – just as the young Australian had done in regulation play.

Furyk, Clarke and Scott then returned to the 18th tee and once again they all hit superb drives. Scott hit the green, but below the plateau to the left, Clarke got nearer and Furyk, who had hit two perfectly drawn fairway woods off the tee in the play-off to make his approach shots easier, put his shot right over the flag and into the fringe above the hole.

Next Scott completely misread the extent of the slope he had to putt up as a precursor to three-putting and Clarke left his birdie attempt just short – giving Furyk another chance to close it out with one brilliant shot.

His ball was nestling down in the grass but he conjured up the perfect shot; pitching the ball with just the right amount of weight and spin to allow it to trickle down towards the cup and then break unerringly right and into the hole – sparking a most un-Furyk-like victory jig.

Ironically in regulation play Furyk had made the weakest finish, dropping shots at both the 15th and the 18th, while Clarke, who had left after the first round, had charged home in 32 with birdies at the 16th and 17th – the latter by pitching in from 100 metres after had driven into the fairway bunker.

Goosen and Scott both had chances to grab the initiative but the South African spoilt his bid by hitting his tee-shot too long and into the back bunker at the short 16th while Scott could not coax in birdie putts at the 16th and 17th before having to fight hard to join the four-man play-off at his final hole.

Furyk’s victory boosts his 2005 earnings to a massive US$5,500,500 and caps a marvelous fightback after he was forced to undergo wrist surgery after winning the 2003 US Open.

There was a sense of right having been done as his Callaway ball dived into the hole to give him victory in his sixth appearance in the Nedbank Challenge.

In 2001 he gained the respect of all golfers when, after realising that he had made mistake in placing the ball, he went to the officials and disqualified himself. Unlike most, Furyk did not pack his bags and leave but instead played on as a marker in the tournament to ensure that his fellow-competitors would not be compromised by his absence.

The man with the funny swing – commentator David Feherty once said his action resembled “an octopus falling out of a tree!” – showed that on tough, penal golf courses the ability to scramble is often a greater attribute than power hitting.

He was often in trouble but time and again he was able to get up-and-down from scruffy lies and greenside bunkers – crucially at the long 14th, where he made a crucial par five after driving into the bush, and at the 16th when the tournament was building to a nail-biting crescendo.

Equally the performance of Goosen defied golfing logic. The defending champion was never comfortable, always at odds with his swing and never happy on the greens, and yet he was able to get to six-under-par (one worse than his winning total in 2004) and join the play-off – proof that the changes made to the Gary Player CC course two years ago have made it more of a US Open type course than a haven for birdies and eagles it had turned into when Ernie Els went 25-under-par in winning in 1999.

The debate will continue as to what kind of layout is preferable for what amounts to an end-of-season wind-down.

Source – Nedbank Challenge
Photo – Anthony Powter

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