The story that will be written Sunday at Innisbrook has several different plots in the making.
Story #1: Jason Dufner is only 1 shot back of the lead and in a good spot to come from behind and get his first career PGA Tour win. This week marks his 160th official start as a PGA Tour player, and he could very well end his career drought Sunday, although he will need to play better than he did on Saturday as he could only manage an even-par round of 71. Dufner is well aware of what is at stake tomorrow, but attempted to play down the talk of a long overdue win. “You know, I don’t really think about being due or not due. I know I’ve been in this position a good bit,” he said. “I’d love to have some great breaks tomorrow and make some 50-footers or hole a 7-iron or something. Maybe that would equal everything out. You know, probably not going to happen. So I’m just focused on trying to play well like I did the first two days.” Dufner’s final-round scoring average this season is 70.75, ranked 77th overall. Not bad, but he’ll need to improve upon that Sunday if he wants a shot getting that first win.
Story #2: From the “Beware of the Wounded Golfer” files: On Wednesday, Retief Goosen’s lingering back problems became so bad that he had to officially withdrew from next week’s tournament at Bay Hill so he could get protein injection therapy for his ailing back next Wednesday. Things were not looking good. Then came Saturday, as he fired the low round of the day at Innisbrook, a 6-under 65 to take a share of the lead heading into the final round. Goosen’s last win, oddly enough, came at this very tournament back in 2009, and in his mind – he’ll need to do it again Sunday to remove any doubts about earning an invite to the Masters in three weeks. “Yeah, I mean, yesterday I set my mind out here, okay, Augusta is not going to be there; I finished poorly yesterday with a double on 16 and fell way back,” Goosen said. “So you sort of tell yourself, probably going to need to shoot low on the weekend to get into the top 5 to by the end of next week stay in the top-50 in the World Rankings, and then maybe be ready for Augusta. So I withdrew, and that made me more relaxed, that you know, this is my last week, my last chance is today and tomorrow. Maybe I’m fighting for that last spot in Augusta.”
Story #3: It could be a big week for the “5-hour Energy Drink” company, as they’ll also be able to market the potential to cure hangovers. Jim Furyk’s career-best 2010 season left a lot to be desired in 2011, his worst season ever on Tour, and the hangover effect hasn’t been easy to shake. Furyk managed only 4 top-10′s last season and missed 7 cuts, and missed his first cut this season at the Honda Classic two weeks ago. His best finish this year was at the Northern Trust Open last month where he finished T11. Furyk shot 5-under 66 in Saturday’s 3rd round to get to 11-under, and shares the lead with Goosen heading into Sunday. Afterward, Furyk spoke candidly about his dismal 2011 season and the impact it had on his confidence.
“Obviously I’m pissed off. I don’t want to play poorly. I haven’t played poorly for — actually I’ve never played like I played last year on Tour,” he said. “Maybe my rookie year but I was excited, I finished 78th on the Money List, I was excited, I had a card, I had a job, I was 23 years old, couldn’t have been happier, 24. Yeah, I was excited. So last year, yeah, you’re pissed off about the way you’re playing, but I think that I’m disappointed, I was upset, I was cranky on the golf course, I was harder on my caddie, I was harder on Mike last year than I’ve ever been,” Furyk continued. “I think I’m a pretty easy guy to work for and there were times last year where I wasn’t, and I realized — I tried not to take it home. I tried when I show up at the hotel room, I try to pretty much put golf behind me, because the kids don’t know any different. You’re still dad at home, whether you shoot 79 or 59. I tried not to take it home and hopefully I didn’t but sometimes it’s hard. But I think had it happened to me probably when I was 31, or 32, and I would have had a bad year there in the middle, I would have taken it a little harder. I lived and breathed my golf a little bit more at those times. And as I got older, other things in my life have become as they should, should have been when I was 31, but there’s other things in life more important and that’s my family and my kids. You put it in perspective, and I think now I’m able to kind of at the end of the day take a deep breath and instead of focusing on, I played poorly, the focus is on, OK, what are the next steps to start playing well. That’s really what I’ve been doing for the last few months. And I needed kind of the year last year to end to be honest with you. And I had to keep playing at the end of the year, because I didn’t have a very good year and I wanted to get the World Ranking up but I needed the time off, take a deep breath and refocus my goals and what I was trying to accomplish and how was I going to go about doing that, and that I needed some time to work on that. I had about eight weeks to kind of get away, to refocus, to think about what I wanted to work on and get to work. I feel like I have not had a lot of starts, and my results maybe probably don’t look good on paper but I feel good about the way I’m playing. I’ve been playing much better golf this year than I was last year.”
I hate to say I told you so, but this all goes back to something that I questioned near the start of last season when the TaylorMade equipment deal came knocking. Furyk, like many other players before him, couldn’t turn down a lucrative endorsement deal and another 10-15 yards off the tee. He even admitted as much Saturday evening in his post-round interview.
“I drove the ball pitiful last year. That’s probably the worst driving year I’ve had. And I don’t credit it all to putting. I putted poorly last year. I drove the ball poorly last year. That’s two of the three most important parts of the game. You’re not going to score well at that point,” he said. “So I switched drivers at the end of last year in December. Started working with a Callaway driver right before Chevron and enjoyed — I liked what I saw. Started working with a different golf ball with actually Phil, when I played with him at The Presidents Cup, started using his golf ball and really liked it. Basically what I was seeing was a combination of the two products, I was creating more spin on the golf ball, and I got away from that a little bit last year. The ball launched a little bit higher and had a little less spin; I could hit it far, but I’m not a high-spin guy and because I’m a guy that wants to hit a lot of shots, hit it right-to-left, left-to-right, hit it low, hit it high, and I need spin to do that and that’s how you control the golf ball.
“I had made some mistakes and in what I was doing with my equipment and I made mistakes fitting myself equipment that I could have done better. And it was a product of maybe trying to get a little bit longer, maybe trying to find new ways to improve and maybe then hurting my strengths, if that makes sense. Trying to make my weaknesses better but in doing so, hurting your strengths, which is rule No. 1. You don’t do that.”
Hopefully it hasn’t led him down the road to no return…. a good round tomorrow will certainly go a long way to restoring his confidence and putting his senseless equipment debacle behind him.
Story #4: Someone comes from 2-3 shots back, maybe even more, to win Sunday. Sang-Moon Bae is tied with Dufner for 2nd, only a shot back of the lead. Ken Duke and John Mallinger are tied for 5th and only 2 shots back at 9-under. Chez Reavie, Ernie Els, and Luke Donald are all tied for 7th, 3 shots back. If Donald can come from behind and win tomorrow, he’ll assume the top spot in the World Rankings again. Almost a dozen players are 4 shots back at 7-under, including the following notables who can obviously turn the tide: Sergio Garcia, David Toms, Webb Simpson, and Padraig Harrington. Chris DiMarco is in that pack, and although it would be unlikely – a win would certainly go a long way to reestablishing his career again. Any number of stories could unfold. Copperhead isn’t an easy course, and crazy things happen Sunday afternoon on the PGA Tour.
I’m expecting a great finish.
For a full recap of Saturday’s action at the 2012 Transitions Championship, click HERE.