Guidera: Furyk's Heritage win timeless and timely

By Tim Guidera - bio | email

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – They saved the drama for the end, just in time for it to start.

With a final round that was more methodical than mercurial, subdued compared to the wild 54 holes that had preceded it, Jim Furyk provided one critical answer to the 2010 Verizon Heritage, but not to the week's central question.

The 18-year PGA Tour veteran earned what he wanted at Harbour Town, a Heritage victory that had barely escaped him several times in the past. The 42-year old tournament was still waiting for what it needs for the future.

This year's event was as much about the title sponsor that's leaving as a new champion arriving. That has been a concern since Verizon announced in October that it would not be renewing its sponsorship agreement and the uncertainty was evident this week in a restrained mood to the celebration of Spring in the Lowcountry.

But the prospect of finding a company to come in and attach itself to this coastal tradition could only have been helped by the past week of remarkable weather, intriguing play and a quality leaderboard.

And again now with a new champion who fits precisely with the elite players who have won here in the past. A 15-time Tour winner and a major champion, Furyk joins the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin and Nick Faldo as Heritage champions.

And he joins the Heritage in its effort to secure the event's future.

"I'd like to do anything I can,'' Furyk said after his victory over Brian Davis on the first hole of sudden death Sunday. "I know they need a new title sponsor and I'll do what I can to help them find one. I love this golf course and this is one of the best tournaments we play every year. It's one we definitely have to keep on the schedule.''

Furyk's win Sunday seemed to fall into schedule.

He had played exceptionally at Harbour Town before, finishing second twice and fourth in the last four years. In his last 21 Heritage rounds prior to this year, he had shot par or better 19 times and played them in a cumulative 41-under par.

Then, this week, he played more steadily than anyone during a tournament that twisted and turned its way around the pines and marsh. For the first three days, the leaderboard changed like a telethon tote board, players moving from back in the pack and into contention every round. All 82 players who made the weekend cut were bunched within seven shots of the lead and by mid-afternoon Saturday, 25 players remained within two.

But with increased wind and final-round pressure, an expected Sunday shootout failed to develop and Furyk and Davis came to the final four holes three shots clear of the field. They also arrived there with Davis, winless in six years on Tour, leading the veteran Furyk by a shot.

"It was a battle all day,'' said Furyk who finished at 13-under after rounds of 67-68-67-69. "Brian and I had a great duel.''

It was one that heated up as the afternoon wore on.

After Davis missed makeable putts on Nos. 15 and 16, Furyk took a one-shot lead to the final hole. But Davis forced the playoff by making a 17-footer for birdie on his final shot of regulation, the ball barely reaching the hole and seemingly falling as a result of gravity rather than forward momentum.

But the exhilaration of that finish led to a bit of an anti-climax when Davis hit his approach into the hazard next to the 18th green in the playoff and called a penalty on himself when his club clipped a reed in his backswing, dislodging something considered a loose impediment.

"I didn't actually feel it, but there was a branch, one of the weed things sticking out, a big bunch,'' said Davis. "I didn't feel it, but I was pretty sure I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I did indeed brush it on the way back and the twig moved slightly. And, obviously a two-stroke penalty.''

"It's admirable what he did,'' Furyk said of Davis, whose act of sportsmanship received several ovations during the tournament's closing ceremonies on the 18th green. "But that's the kind of game we play on the PGA Tour. It's not the way I wanted to win, but I respect him for what he did.''

But in the end, the tournament had the winner most people seemed to want.

The large crowd around the 18th green – part of the estimated 125,000 fans who had come out to Harbour Town this week to show support of this event – clearly favored Furyk. And they greeted him warmly into the Heritage family when he slipped on the tartan blazer awarded to the tournament's champion.

"I'd like to say I make this jacket look good,'' said Furyk. "But I know I don't.''

But his win was one more thing out of this week that made the Heritage look good to potential sponsors, a name on top that confirmed the tournament's identity that was so readily displayed for four days.

It was all there to see for whoever was watching, the sunshine, the setting the course that allowed scoring but was not overcome by it. And it was equally evident at the end in Furyk.

He had long been expected to win at Harbour Town. And he stepped off the 18th green Sunday not only having won the Heritage, but also a worthy, established and recognizable champion who will bring the credibility and attention that will be needed in the coming year more than ever before for one of the Tour's longest-running events.

And who is willing to be part of the Heritage drama that is only beginning.