By Ron Patey
Instead of buckling under, Jim Furyk bucked up to beat back all the stellar challenges tossed his way at the RBC Heritage. And he stood victorious, for the first time on the PGA Tour in more than four years. With a nasty rainstorm threatening, Sunday’s round began with earlier tee times at Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina. It ended with Furyk pulling on the champion’s Plaid Jacket after making birdie on the second playoff hole to douse the hopes of Kevin Kisner.
That birdie on No. 17 turned out to be Furyk’s 11th in the 20 holes he played during the final round. Furyk had carded a superb final-day total of 8-under 63 and looked to be home and dry until Kisner, a South Carolina native, struck a magnificent approach shot tight to the pin at 18. Kisner drained his birdie putt, and the duo headed back to start the playoff at 18. They both birdied the first extra hole. Kisner then missed a birdie try at 17; Furyk center cut his putt to win for the 17th time on the PGA Tour.
Since capturing the Tour Championship and FedExCup in 2010, Furyk had gone 100 events without a victory, even though he’d held or was tied for the 54-hole lead in nine of those tournaments.
Masters champion Jordan Spieth took a moment to catch his breath after a whirlwind media blitz to finish T11. Spieth’s shaky opening round of 3-over 74 was followed by rounds of 62, 68 and 70. Also, eight-time Major winner Tom Watson signaled that next year’s Masters could be his last as a competitor.
Next On The Tee: Zurich Classic of New Orleans
The Battle of the Big Easy sees defending champion Seung-yul Noh of South Korea attempting to earn back-to-back crowns. But he finds himself squarely in the sights of several of the PGA Tour’s biggest names, including Jason Day of Australia, the world’s sixth-ranked player, Dustin Johnson (7th), Justin Rose (9th), Rickie Fowler (13th) and last year’s FedExCup winner Billy Horschel (19th). While Noh looks to be an easy champ to dethrone (three missed cuts in his last five events with a best performance of T38 in The Masters), his triumph last year proves he feels comfortable on TPC Louisiana.
Day and Johnson are the most likely candidates to unseat Noh, since both have already won this season. The Aussie dispatched J.B. Holmes, Harris English and Scott Stallings on extra holes at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance Open. Johnson, who recently returned from a sixth-month hiatus, took out Holmes down the stretch in the WGC-Cadillac Championship to hoist the trophy at Trump National Doral.
Horschel will return to the scene of his first PGA Tour championship when he tees it up this week. The Florida native drained six consecutive birdies in the final round of the event’s 2013 edition to knock off D.A. Points by a stroke. Veteran Steve Stricker comes into the Zurich Classic of New Orleans feeling better about his game; his T28 finish in the Masters followed a long recovery from back surgery. Kisner arrives in New Orleans looking to build on this weekend’s second-place finish. Troy Merritt, who tied the course record of 61 at Harbour Town Golf Links on Friday (28 on the back nine) to record a solo third, is primed to factor in.
TPC Louisiana plays 7,425 yards long and is a par 72.
Favorites: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Billy Horschel, Rickie Fowler
Players To Watch: Seung-yul Noh, Steve Stricker, Kevin Kisner, Troy Merritt, David Toms (Louisiana native)
Ron Patey covered the golf industry for 21 years as a special sections editor with Sun Media. During the past five years, Patey has been a golf writer for Examiner.com.