ATLANTA (Reuters) - Veteran Jim Furyk, hunting his first PGA Tour victory in two years, took advantage of a sizzling start to grab a one-shot lead in Friday’s second round of the elite Tour Championship.
While tournament favorite Rory McIlroy carded a two-under-par 68 to stay on track for FedExCup playoff honors and the mind-boggling bonus of $10 million, Furyk birdied seven of the first 10 holes on the way to a best-of-the week 64.
On a steamy day at East Lake Golf Club, American Furyk scorched the front nine in six-under 29 with a stunning display of pinpoint approach shots before finding the going much tougher after the turn.
He offset birdies at the 10th, 15th and 17th with bogeys at the 13th, 16th and par-three last to post a seven-under total of 133 in the PGA Tour’s fourth and final playoff event.
“To be able to write ‘three’ on your card nine times in the first 11 holes was a lot of fun,” a smiling Furyk, 42, told reporters.
”I struggled to kind of keep that momentum going the last six holes, but I feel like I played a real solid round of golf. My iron game was as good as it’s been all year on the front nine.
“I’ve got myself in good position for the weekend, and I‘m a lot closer to the top of the (FedExCup) leaderboard than I was starting on Thursday. I‘m in good spirits.”
Britain’s Justin Rose, co-leader overnight with twice winner Tiger Woods in the elite 30-man field after opening with a 66, was alone in second place after sinking a five-foot birdie putt at the last for a 68.
Masters champion Bubba Watson birdied two of the last three holes for a 66 to finish at five-under, level with fellow American Bo Van Pelt (68) and one ahead of Dustin Johnson (67) and Matt Kuchar (69), also of the United States.
Northern Irishman McIlroy, who is seeking a fifth PGA Tour victory this year, and his fourth in just five starts, was a further stroke back at three-under while Woods battled to a 73 for a one-under total.
”I didn’t play very good today,“ Woods said after recording his worst score at East Lake since he opened 75-76 at the 1998 Tour Championship. ”Didn’t hit it very good, and definitely didn’t putt well, so it was a struggle all day.
“But I‘m still right there. This is a golf course that is playing tough but some of the pins are pretty accessible. You’ve got to get the ball on the fairway.”
Furyk has not triumphed on the PGA Tour since he clinched the Tour Championship and FedExCup honors in 2010 and to complete the ‘double’ this week he needs a lot to go his way.
Among several requirements, FedExCup points leader McIlroy would have to finish 12th or worse and second-ranked Woods fifth or worse.
Any of the top five players in the standings would secure the playoff title by winning the Tour Championship on Sunday - and that quintet comprises McIlroy and Americans Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker.
However, McIlroy remained in overall control of FedExCup honors after eagling the par-five 15th on the way to a 68 that also included a birdie and a bogey.
”I‘m only four shots back, so I’ve still got a good chance going into the weekend,“ the 23-year-old said. ”First and foremost, I just have to try to think of my standing in this golf tournament, not really think about anything else.
”If it comes down to it on Sunday where I need to really know what I have to do for the last few holes, then if I have a decision to make between protecting my lead in the FedExCup or trying to win the golf tournament, I think I know what I‘m going to choose.
“But we just have to play until we reach that point. At the minute, I‘m just concentrating on trying to play as well as I can.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue