Buick Open could be a defining moment for Furyk - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

By Mike Purkey

Buick Open could be a defining moment for Furyk

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No single tournament on the PGA Tour can make or break a player's year, but this week's Buick Open could be a defining moment for Jim Furyk. He's clearly the favorite, having won this event in 2003 and finishing second twice in six years, including his runner-up finish to Tiger Woods last year.

But the question becomes: Can he win when he's expected to do so? Woods is not in the field this week and neither is Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh. Furyk is the player to beat, but will he prove to be unbeatable?

Furyk had a monster year in 2006, winning twice, finishing second on the Tour money list and ended the year ranked No. 2 in the world, surpassing Mickelson for that spot behind Woods. It looked as though Furyk would ascend to the world stage and replace the likes of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen and even Singh as a player one would label as "great" instead of merely "good."

But he hasn't won since the Canadian Open last September and, other than his victories, has finished in the top four a staggering 13 times since the beginning of 2006. That's 13 times he had a chance to win and didn't. While it looks nice when you cash the check, it's not a trophy and that's what great players play for. Win trophies and the money takes care of itself.

There is so much money on the PGA Tour-and in other places-that the standard of excellence has radically changed. If you cash a big check, you've had a good week. That's not the way Woods or Jack Nicklaus or Ben Hogan approached tournament golf. They played to win and if they didn't, it was a bad week.

There is one winner each week on Tour and the rest of the 156-player field didn't win. "If you're not first, you're last," Ricky Bobby said in "Talledega Nights." You can bet that Woods takes no solace in finishing tied for fourth. Even Jay Williamson probably didn't claim a moral victory in a second-place check, even though it will probably put him back on Tour as an exempt member next year. He could have won and he lost. That's what will stick in his mind for the next little while.

That's not to say that the elite players aren't trying to win each week. They most certainly are. But perhaps it's that losing doesn't hurt as much as it should. When you have three homes, including one in Hawaii, how can life be all that bad?

And, if that's the kind of existence that makes you happy and gives you peace of mind, then finishing in the top four or top 10 or top 125 is the place for you. But if winning is all that satisfies your hunger, you'd probably do it for one-tenth the money. Woods has all the money he will ever need. He has so much, it's Monopoly money.

Even the top five players in the world are fabulously wealthy and would live like kings if they never earned another dime. So what drives them? What makes them want to tee it up against the best players in the world every week? If it's not winning, then what? Do they have no place else to go or nothing better to do?

In Nicklaus' day, he probably only had to beat about 20 percent of the field each week. Today, the Tour is much deeper and on any given week, there are probably 75 players-about half the field-who is capable of winning. Hunter Mahan is a case in point. So that makes it much more difficult to win week in and week out on the modern Tour.

But that doesn't address the matter of hunger and satisfaction. Is finishing in the top five a job well done or an opportunity squandered? If the PGA Tour was winner-take-all every week, wonder who would step up?

The winner is not always the best, but the most single-minded. If cars and houses are suitable alternatives to trophies, then there will never be more than one great player in the world. The rest will be merely rich.

Mike Purkey has been covering professional golf for more than 20 years for a variety of publications, including GOLF Magazine. He is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is a frequent contributor to NBCSports.com.

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