The "59 watch" has been put into effect with increasing frequency in recent years, but every time a player on the PGA Tour makes a run at breaking 60, the dynamic of a tournament changes and the buzz on the grounds, and in the media, is blasts off. It's golf's magic number, and only five players in the history of the PGA Tour had posted it prior to 2013.
In 2013, Jim Furyk, one of America's best in a generation, added his name to the list late in the year at the BMW Championship. Furyk's had a rough-go in recent seasons, known more for some final round failings than his continued contention on almost a monthly basis. At 43 years old, he remains one of the top players in the world and is still able to compete with anyone on Tour. Yet that ability to still contend has been overshadowed by giveaways at the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic, the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone, and an excruciating Sunday singles loss to Sergio Garcia as part of Team USA's Medinah meltdown in the Ryder Cup.
Furyk made 20 of 24 cuts this past season, posted 14 top 25 finishes, 8 top 10 finishes, and two runners-up. But the veteran, and potential Hall of Famer, has still not won on Tour since taking the entire FedExCup in Atlanta back in 2010. The choker narrative has firmly sunk its teeth into Furyk, despite having a major championship to his name and his consistency on the other side of 40 years old.
So it had to feel good when he lit up the golf world in September, taking center stage on a Friday afternoon at Conway Farms. The BMW Championship is the third leg of the PGA Tour's playoffs, and Furyk was a month removed from a disappointing runner-up at the PGA Championship, a tournament he led for much of the way at Oak Hill. And he was just a week removed from a Presidents Cup snub by friend and captain Fred Couples, who opted to go with rookie Jordan Spieth and Webb Simpson over the American team mainstay.
Furyk went off the back side at Conway Farms, and went out in 28. His first nine holes featured six birdies and an eagle (a holed-out wedge from 115 yards on a par-4) to sound the 59 watch alarm by mid afternoon. He then birdied three of his first four holes on his second nine, bringing the 58 discussion into play. A bogey on No. 5 pumped the brakes on entertaining those thoughts, and now he would be making a bid to become the first player ever to break 60 with a bogey on the card.
The 2003 U.S. Open champion (another career highlight in the Chicago area) needed two birdies in his last four holes for golf history. It came down to the last, a shorter par-4 that put a wedge in his hand for an approach shot from just outside 100 yards. There were no nerves exposed, and Furyk pretty much removed all doubt by sticking a dart within a few feet from the cup (via PGATour):
It was an eventful year for the "59 watch," as we'd seen the game's two biggest superstars of this era -- Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods -- make serious runs at breaking 60. Mickelson's final putt lipped out in Phoenix for a cruel 60 (No. 16 on this countdown), while Tiger matched his career low of 61 after stalling over the final five holes at Firestone (No. 18 on this countdown). There was a bit of irony then that Furyk, one of those third wheels during the Tiger-Phil era, was the one to actually pull through and break it. He joins this list of players who have carded 59 at an official PGA Tour event:
1977 - Al Geiberger -- Danny Thomas Memphis Classic
1991 - Chip Beck -- Las Vegas Invitational
1999 - David Duval -- Bob Hope Chrysler Classic
2010 - Paul Goydos -- John Deere Classic
2010 - Stuart Appleby -- Greenbrier Classic
Furyk's 59, however, may be the most impressive given the course and conditions he was playing under. The next best score after Furyk was a 65!! This was not some flukey round on an easy pitch-and-putt setup. Conway Farms yielded plenty of birdies in its PGA Tour debut, but the second round on Friday was not one of the days when it was gettable. The wind was up and most of the field was challenged to just break 70, with a low-60s round not even a thought.
Given the conditions, and the narrative that's attached to Furyk during a recent spate of misfortune, the historic round came at just the right time to remind everyone that his funky swing has delivered one of the game's most accomplished careers. The frenzied Friday afternoon in Chicago is easily one of the year's top 25 stories.