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Len Ziehm On Golf

Furyk may be the next `Mr. Chicago’ in golf

With all due respect to Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and even Tiger Woods, there is another contender when debating the most successful player on Chicago courses. Jim Furyk should also be on the list.

All four players have feasted on Chicago area courses. Furyk just did it most recently – and is still doing it at the somewhat advanced age of 49.

Watson won the Western Open, predecessor to the BMW Championship, three times between 1974-84. Irwin won the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah as well as one Western and three PGA Tour Champions tournaments on Chicago courses while Woods owns two Westerns and two PGA Championship here.

Furyk’s record isn’t bad either. He won the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields and the 2005 Western at Cog Hill. He also posted a 59 at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, en route to a third-place finish in the 2013 BMW played there and now still another impressive BMW is looming.

Furyk was four-under-par after five holes Thursday en route to posting a 6-under-par 66 at Medinah. He’s tied for third place, one stroke off the lead going into Friday’s Round 2.

“I’ve always liked Medinah, and Chicago has been good to me,’’ Furyk admitted. “I’ve always enjoyed coming back to Chicago and seeing the fans here.’’

This week it’s more a personal thing. Furyk had to walk off the course at Conway Farms in the 2015 BMW with a wrist injury. He had surgery the following year and wasn’t
in full recovery mode until this year when he played his way into three major championships and the FedEx Playoffs.

“My motivation is I had three years off basically where I wasn’t playing good golf,’’ said Furyk. “I want to prove to myself that I can do it again.’’

A quick turn-around

Rory Sabatini estimated his score at 82 in Wednesday’s pro-am, but he was much better when the tournament started on Thursday. Playing in the third group off the No. 1 tee, Sabatini chalked up five birdies in the first eight holes en route to a 67.

“I think my amateurs thought I was the amateur in my pro-am group,’’ said Sabatini. “If you would have offered me 70 before I teed off I probably would have run for the hills with it quickly. Maybe (67) is a little bit more than I’m capable of in my old age (43).

The Slovakian golfer is definitely on the comeback trail after battling injuries and rebuilding his putting stroke over the last three years.

“This is probably the first time in many years I’ve actually played to my potential,’’ he said.

One stroke did it

Tony Finau’s play was nothing special in the first 12 holes of the BMW Championship, then a 35-foot putt dropped for a deuce at the par-3 thirteenth. That changed everything.

Finau followed with an eagle-birdie showing on the next two holes and posted a 67.

“Sometimes you just need to see the ball go in, no matter from where or if you chip it in or putt from 20 or 30 feet,’’ said Finau. I was able to see a 35-footer go it, and that gets your mindset in a different direction. I knew I had a par-5 in front of me and a drivable par-4, so I was able to score on the holes I needed to coming down the stretch.’’

Here and there

Joel Dahmen’s 66 got him into a tie for third place with Furyk, but he’s been enjoying Chicago all week. His wife Lona turned 31 on Tuesday and they celebrated her birthday at Alinea, a Chicago restaurant. “They do different things with food and chemistry and they change your sensory,’’ he said. “They have smelly things all over the place and the lighting is weird. We got to go down to the kitchen. Just a super cool experience.’’

Phil Mickelson is far down the FedEx standings and his opening round 70 didn’t help his chances of getting into the top 30 to qualifying for next week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. Michelson wasn’t deflated, however. “I let a good round go, but I’m playing much better. I feel a lot better about my game,’’ he said.

Collin Morikawa, fresh out of the collegiate ranks, shot 67 and is now a contender for Rookie of the Year. “It’s definitely popped up out of the blue over the past month, since I’ve gotten a win,’’ he said. “That’s not something that I’m going to worry about until everything is over. I’ve got to worry about tomorrow.’’