PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Early on Sunday at the Players Championship, everyone was falling apart. What was happening closely resembled watching a 30-car pileup rather than a golf tournament. Rory McIlroy was two over through four holes. Tommy Fleetwood made bogey at the first. Jon Rahm, who showed the potential to run away with the tournament in his third round, dropped three shots in his first four holes. The lead was being passed around like a hot potato.
And there was Jim Furyk, the 48-year-old with the funky swing who has not won a golf tournament since April 2015 and has finished inside the top 10 just three times in 33 starts between 2017 and 2018. The same guy who has had every excuse in the world—injuries, putting woes, an ugly Ryder Cup loss as American captain, young players driving it miles past him—to ride off into the sunset and resurface on the PGA Tour Champions in two years time.
But Furyk has never been that type of guy. He didn't win 17 times on the PGA Tour by giving up when things didn't go his way. On Sunday at TPC Sawgrass, not to mention the whole week in Ponte Vedra Beach, he showed the grit he's shown his entire career, carding a final-round 67 that put him tantalizingly close to what could have been the most satisfying win of his career. He came up one shot short of winner Rory McIlroy, who is 19 years Furyk's junior and 161 spots ahead of him in the Official World Golf Ranking. Not bad for somebody who two weeks ago hadn't yet qualified to play in his hometown tournament.
"I wasn't even sure if I was going to be in the field," said Furyk, who shot rounds of 68 and 67 on the weekend at the Honda Classic to tie for ninth and move up high enough on the FedEx Cup points list to grab a spot in the Players. "So found out kind of late Sunday that I was definitely in, last guy in the field. I really liked the state of my game, the way I was playing. I played a great event at Honda, and just was excited. I mean, I knew how well I was playing and wanted some opportunities to get out there on the golf course."
He took advantage of this latest opportunity, finishing in solo second, his best showing since the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont where he shot a final-round 66 to tie for second. A victory would have snuck him past Fred Funk as the oldest winner of the event.
Furyk had longed for a Sunday like that one and it showed down the stretch, specifically at the 18th hole, where he channeled Tiger Woods by hitting his approach, walking after it and staring it down as it tracked toward the pin, landing three feet from the cup.
"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," Furyk said. "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.
"I kind of walked early on 17, too. It's not something I usually do, but I think I was just really excited to be in the moment."
His tap-in birdie at the 72nd was his fourth on the back nine and fifth of the day. He also made an eagle at the par-5 second, one that was ultimately canceled out by a pair of bogeys at the first and 15th holes. Those two holes, plus the 17th, where he just barely missed a 14-footer for birdie that he "still couldn't believe" didn't go in, will be ones he'll wish he had back.
"That might be the best putt I hit all day, to be honest with you," said Furyk, who needed just 25 putts in his round. "And that's why I was backpedaling it. Halfway there, it looked like it was in.
"I'll try not to beat myself up too much. It's hard. I won't sleep much tonight because I never really do on Sunday nights."
The loss will hurt, something Furyk made very clear during his post-round press conference. He doesn't seem like a moral-victory guy, even though this would fall squarely in the moral-victory category given the circumstances.
"I don't feel any less pride on the way I played because I lost or didn't win, I guess would be the best way to say it," he said. "I missed a little one on 15. I can look back at that. I didn't feel comfortable over it. I should have backed off. I putted great all week. My putting stats were phenomenal this week. I putted beautiful today. I made everything that was makeable for the most part. I missed that little one."
What's next for Furyk? Likely a few extra tournaments to add to the schedule, for now. He moved up to 57th in the World Ranking, meaning he's now qualified for the WGC-Dell Match Play in two weeks. He's lightened his load considerably as he's gotten older, for both health-related reasons and to spend more time with the family. He also likes to pick and choose his spots anyway, playing at courses that reward his precision, creativity and shot-making rather than many of the tour's bomb-and-gouge paradises. Furyk hopes to add both Colonial and Memorial, events he'll likely qualify for as well thanks to this finish at Sawgrass. For the 48-year-old (did you know he was 48?), that's way beyond what he had in mind for this season.
"My whole goal was I knew this year that I was healthy," Furyk said. "This is the first time I've been healthy starting a season since '15. '16 I had a surgery early in the year, '17 I hurt myself at the U.S. Open. I haven't just been right. My whole goal was to see how competitive I could be. If I could go out and be competitive out here on the tour and give myself opportunities to win, that's what I consider competitive, I want to try to win golf tournaments. And if I could do that, then I'll play some on the PGA Tour, and if I can't, well, I turn 50 pretty soon and I'll go hang with my buddies out there [on the Champions Tour] and see if I can be competitive out there."
Wherever, whenever and however many times Furyk plays, Sunday's final round was proof he's still got plenty left in the tank, and he's far from being done contending in tournaments. Even in defeat, that's a big development for Furyk.
"I was definitely at peace with whatever happened. I was just excited about the fact that I was healthy, and I wanted to really kind of see what I could do. So this tournament showed me."