ST. LOUIS – Initially it seemed like a strange coincidence that U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk was paired with Ryder Cup hopefuls Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele in the first two rounds of the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive.
Now it’s worth asking if it’s fate that Furyk and Finau were paired together again on Saturday as both players just squeezed inside the cut line at even par.
It’s an extended in-person job interview for Finau with the boss himself.
It took only one shot on Saturday for Finau to impress the gallery, drawing audible “Oohs” and “Aahs” after his tee shot traveled nearly 300 yards on the 10th hole, so you have to wonder what has been going through Furyk’s head this week with four Ryder Cup Captain’s selections looming.
One spectator near the 10th tee box compared Finau to the likes of Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, two players who are known as big hitters. The dirty little secret is that Finau ranks ahead of both in average driving distance, checking in at third on the PGA Tour with an average distance of more than 317 yards.
Playing with Martin Kaymer, Furyk and Finau were the odd couple in a three-man pairing that one course marshal described as “about the best even par group you can find.”
Only Rory McIlroy and Trey Mullinax drive the ball farther, on average, than Finau. He’s a long hitter who hit his irons farther off the tee on Saturday than Furyk’s and Kaymer’s drives with their woods.
Furyk, on the other hand, is second-to-last on the PGA Tour in driving distance.
Finau is 28. Furyk is 48.
You could nearly balance a level on Finau’s flat-billed hat. Furyk likes a little bend in his bill.
Finau’s stylish two-toned blue golf shoes likely drew the envy of sneaker heads. Furyk laced up some classic all-whites.
Despite any stylistic contrasts between Furyk’s and Finau’s playing styles or clothing choices, their pairing during the weekend of the PGA Championship couldn’t be any more fitting.
If Furyk’s embroidered Ryder Cup yardage book, which had the letters “USA” poking out of his back right pocket, wasn’t a constant reminder of what’s at stake, then the playful banter from the fans in St. Louis certainly addressed the elephant in the room: Finau’s play is worthy of Ryder Cup consideration and Furyk holds the power to offer him a spot on the team.
Furyk was introduced as the 2018 United States Ryder Cup Team captain at the start of the third round, and the fans’ reception was fitting for the mayor of St. Louis, let alone the country’s golf captain at Le Golf National in Paris in September.
A “USA” chant broke out along the fairway of the 10th hole. Furyk was offered a cigar on the way to the 11th tee box, which he politely declined.
He was called “Captain” or “Cap’n” so many times you would’ve thought he was sailing on the high seas.
When a spectator hollered out near the 15th tee box, “We’ve got some Ryder Cup tips for you,” Furyk turned and laughed. After he hit his tee shot, he turned a second time and offered the fan a parting thumbs-up.
“I’m a Furyk fan now,” the fan said after the interaction.
The beauty of Furyk’s performance at Bellerive is that he was so much more than the ceremonial figurehead he’ll be in Paris. Through three rounds, Furyk is on pace for his best score-to-par at a major in 14 months after finishing at 16-over at the U.S. Open and missing the cut at last year’s PGA Championship.
In his first seven holes of the round, he either found the fairway or drove the green. He sandwiched a 5-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole in between bogeys and added an 11-foot birdie putt on the 1st hole.
Furyk closed the back nine with a 38-foot par putt in front of a full gallery on 18 that turned back the clocks for the 17-time PGA Tour winner.
The cheers for Furyk’s long putt was the type of unbridled roar that had echoed throughout Bellerive on Saturday as Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas climbed to the top of the leaderboard.
With Koepka leading the PGA Championship at 12-under through Saturday, Furyk (+1) and Finau (-1) will have to wait to be in front of roaring crowds.
Or maybe they won’t.
In just one month, the Furyk-captained American Ryder Cup team will be in Paris.
“Tony’s the pick!” yelled a fan at the 14th hole on Saturday. After Finau tied a PGA Championship record with 10 birdies in his second round, he’s made a compelling case.
After all, no one besides Finau’s caddie has seen more of Finau this week than Furyk.
It almost makes you wonder if it’s fate.