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Weir, Furyk are surprise hits in this year's PGA majors

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- The Masters champion is a southpaw from north of the border. The U.S. Open champion has a loop in his swing that helped him hit the ball straight on a course not far from the Loop in Chicago.

Halfway through the majors, this is shaping up to be an unusual year.

For starters, Tiger Woods is not the defending champion in any of the Grand Slam events for the first time since he captured the 1999 PGA Championship at nearby Medinah.

Whether he has a new list of rivals is open for debate.

"Do I consider myself in the top echelon?" Jim Furyk said after winning the U.S. Open on Sunday by three shots over Stephen Leaney.

"There's a select few that have pulled away from the field and separated themselves because of the major championships they won or the amount of tournaments they won," he said. "I consider myself in the next level of players, and I have a lot of confidence in my ability to do what I did this week."

Topping the list is Woods, even though he is fourth on the PGA Tour money list.

Furyk was also quick to mention Ernie Els, the only player besides Woods to have won at least three majors since 1994; and Phil Mickelson, who now is 0-for-40 in the majors but has won 20 times on the PGA Tour.

The U.S. Open was Furyk's eighth victory on the PGA Tour, and while he has one more major than Mickelson, he has just as many as Rich Beem and Paul Lawrie.

"I'm not a better player today than I was yesterday just because I won the U.S. Open," Furyk said. "But this is a big step. I always felt I had the game, but now I've proven it to myself. I should be able to use this experience for positives in the future.

"If I don't believe in myself right now, I never will."

He was hardly a fluke winner.

Furyk has won at least once in each of the last six years. Once known for winning in vacation spots (Las Vegas, Honolulu), his last three victories have come in the winners-only Mercedes Championships, the Memorial and the U.S. Open.

Coming into Olympia Fields, Furyk had 10 finishes in the top 10, more than anyone.

"If you would pick a major championship for him to win, you'd figure it would be this one," Woods said. "The way he plays his game, and the way this is set up for him, this is a perfect venue for him. The guy is, day in and day out, pretty consistent."

Furyk did the same thing as Mike Weir two months ago at Augusta National.

He drove the ball in the fairway, ranking second at Olympia Fields in keeping it in the short grass. He gave himself plenty of birdie opportunities. And the only time his focus left him was when the tournament already was won.

Weir had a three-putt bogey on the first playoff hole at the Masters, but by then Len Mattiace had already shot him out of a green jacket.

Furyk had a three-putt bogey on the final hole at Olympia Fields, but only after Vijay Singh and Nick Price checked out of the U.S. Open, and Leaney ran out of time to make up the big deficit he faced all afternoon.

The only thing the bogeys cost Furyk was an outright record.

The final bogey dropped Furyk to 8-under 272, matching the 72-hole record set by Woods in 2000, Lee Janzen at Baltusrol in 1993 and Jack Nicklaus at Baltusrol in 1980.

Woods was the only player to finish at double digits below par -- 12 under at a Pebble Beach course that played as a par 71.

"It entered my mind that a two-putt breaks the Open record," Furyk said. "My only thought was, 'Let's knock in a putt to win the U.S. Open. That would be great.' Then I said, 'Forget about the record, let's just go win the thing and get out of here.'

"I lost a little concentration."

Weir raised a few eyebrows when he suggested he was capable of winning the Grand Slam, especially since he had won only three times when the 2003 started.

He wound up in a tie for third at the U.S. Open, albeit seven shots out of the lead and not a serious threat over the final 27 holes.

"My standard is getting higher," Weir said. "If I could have gotten off to the kind of start I needed to, you never know what would have happened. It's a pretty successful tournament. The effort was there."

The next major is the British Open at Royal St. George. Perhaps this will be the first year since 1969 the four majors are captured by players who had never won a Grand Slam event.

Woods figures to have a say in that. He remains the player to beat.

Still, he has finished at least nine strokes out of the lead in four of his last five tournaments, dating to his last victory at Bay Hill in March.

The longest he has ever gone without winning a major was 10 events, from the '97 Masters to the '99 PGA Championship. He has not faded into obscurity quite yet.

"My ultimate goal is to win championships," Woods said. "These are the biggest. All you can do is give it your best."

Weir did that at the Masters. Furyk was the best at the U.S. Open.

Who's next?


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