PITTSFORD — Jim Furyk had a message to the media Thursday after the first round of the 95th PGA Championship: Don’t kill my vibe.
Furyk was in the media room at Oak Hill Country Club after opening with a round of 5-under-par 65 when the line of questioning turned to his recent disappointments in major championships.
“I’m on a nice little high, but y’all are trying to bring me down,” Furyk said. “Damn. You have bad thoughts too often.”
Not even a bogey on the ninth hole – his last of the day after teeing off on No. 10 – could spoil Furyk’s mood.
“Usually disappointed with ending the day on a bogey, but you know, 65 in the PGA is not so bad,” he said.
That might be understating things just a bit. Furyk’s 65 was the lowest he’s ever shot in the first round of a PGA, and gave him a share of the first-round lead with Australian Adam Scott.
Pillow-soft greens and fairways greeted the 156-player field, and several took advantage of the surprisingly vulnerable 7,163-yard layout. The 65s carded by Furyk and Scott came in the morning and afternoon, respectively, and were just one shot off the East Course record of 64 shared by Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange. A total of 35 players broke par during a long day that started when the first shot was struck at 7:10 a.m. and didn’t finish until the final putt dropped at nearly 8:30 p.m., thanks to a 70-minute rain delay in the afternoon.
“I really felt in control this morning,” Furyk said. “I had some testy 4-, 5-, 6-footers to start the day and I was able to knock a bunch of those in and get some rhythm with my putter, and I think that eased some tension with the rest of my game, as well.”
Hot and cold doesn’t begin to describe Furyk’s relationship with his putter.
When he’s got the flat stick working, the 43-year-old is one of the game’s best on the greens. But this year has been the polar opposite.
Furyk ranks 120th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained-putting, which measures the number of putts a golfer takes relative to the Tour average, taking into account the initial putt distance on each green. Last year, he was 18th.
That up-and-down relationship is nothing new. In 2011, he ranked 150th – a year after being 26th. In 2009, he ranked eighth on the greens, and in 2007 he ranked 107th.
Furyk was asked whether he worried earlier in the season that his putting stroke might never come back.
“On a scale of one to 10 – one I wasn’t worried and 10 I was really worried – I’ll give it a zero. How’s that?” Furyk said. “I feel like putting, even at your most hopeless point, even when you’re out there on the course and you’re really struggling, we’ve all been there before. Sometimes it takes a day, sometimes it takes a week, sometimes it takes a month, but eventually you get the putter in your hand and it feels great one day.”
Thursday was that day for Furyk, highlighted by a 40-foot bomb for birdie on the par-4 16th hole. Just two holes later, he hit a 4-iron to within a foot on the difficult par-4 18th hole for another birdie.
“Any time you get a tap-in at 18, that’s always fun,” he said.
Furyk’s first three majors this season haven’t been nearly as enjoyable. After tying for 25th at the Masters, he missed the cut on both sides of the pond, in the U.S. and British Opens.
“I’ve done a lot of work, both with the driver and the putter,” he said. “Two of the three most important components of playing well, and usually two strengths of my game.”
Furyk has a major to his credit – the 2003 U.S. Open – but lately has been known more for his failures on the big stage, including when he snap-hooked a drive left on the 70th hole of the U.S. Open in 2012, dropping from a tie for the lead to fourth place.
In the next major of 2012, Scott blew a four-shot lead in the final round of the Open Championship by making bogey on the final four holes. He bounced back in grand fashion, however, by winning his first major at the Masters in April, and has solidified himself as one of the world’s top five players.
“He played some flawless golf on the front nine,” said Justin Rose, who along with Phil Mickelson joined Scott in a grouping of the season’s three major winners.
Scott ran off five straight birdies from holes four through eight, calling it a dream start.
“Probably the best run I’ve ever had,” he said. “I just hit really nice shots and didn’t leave myself too much work. You have to take advantage of that if you’re feeling that, and I was.”
Scott briefly reached 6-under – putting him on pace to match Hogan and Strange – when he birdied the short, 331-yard par-4 14th hole, but he dropped his only shot of the day with a missed 5-foot par putt on the par-4 16th.
“It’s always tough with a rain delay like that when you’re playing really well,” he said.
Scott and Furyk sit one shot ahead of Canadian David Hearn and Englishman Lee Westwood, who once again finds himself near the top of a leader board in a major. Westwood couldn’t close out the Open Championship last month despite starting the final round with a two-shot lead, but said his painful history in the biggest tournaments will have no impact on his chances this week. His 66 was the best career round he’s had in the PGA Championship.
“I managed to get focused this week and I felt very calm out there and in control,” he said. “Golf doesn’t stress me or disappoint me very often any more. In fact, I can’t remember the last time it did. Just get on with it.”
A group of six players is tied for fifth, just two shots back, while another 11 players are three shots back, including Rose, this year’s U.S. Open champion.
“The course did offer the opportunity to get it going low,” he said. “All in all, it’s a good start. I can build on that.”
Several others feel the same way.
1. Jim Furyk 65 -5
1. Adam Scott 65 -5
3. David Hearn 66 -4
3. Lee Westwood 66 -4
5. Paul Casey 67 -3
5. Jason Day 67 -3
5. Marcus Fraser 67 -3
5. Robert Garrigus 67 -3
5. Matt Kuchar 67 -3
5. Scott Piercy 67 -3