AKRON, Ohio — Here’s one way to look at the Bridgestone Invitational scoreboard: Jim Furyk 45, Jordan Spieth 22.
Age is a relative thing, and in this case Furyk is twice as old. Spieth was born in 1993. Furyk joined the PGA Tour in ’94. If Furyk owns any golf gear that he’s had longer than Spieth has been alive, he’s not admitting it.
Not even a sweater, he was asked?
“No, I’m not pulling a Nick Faldo sweater out,” he joked.
There are plenty of other outstanding golfers on the leaderboard, but Furyk and Spieth provide the most interesting contrast. Other than the fact that they both putt crosshanded (left-hand low if you’re one of those fussy purists) and are not big hitters (Furyk rates Spieth as medium length, much longer than himself, who falls into the shortish category), they don’t have much in common.
Oh, and they’ve both got a shot to win here at the Bridgestone Invitational. And so do a lot of other guys.
Furyk shot his second straight 66 and owns a four-shot lead at eight under par through 36 holes. Bubba Watson (66), Dustin Johnson (67) and Ireland’s Shane Lowry (66) are his closest challengers at four under.
Spieth put together a scrappy 68, two under, and birdied this final hole to stay within six shots of Furyk.
Gusting winds combined with firm fairways, gnarly rough and slick greens to hold scoring down Friday morning. First-round leader Danny Lee shot 72.
“It was a day when I felt like I shot five or six under just to shoot two under,” Spieth said. “It’s a great course. It’s really tough, it’s a challenge from tee to green.”
Spieth hit nine greens in regulation and made six birdies.
“That’s a pretty nice percentage,” he said later with a big grin.
His highlights included a delicate chip-in at the third hole — his shot clanged hard off the flagstick and dropped in — and a 192-yard approach shot at No. 9, his last hole, that stopped three feet from the cup.
“The chip-in was a bit of luck,” Spieth admitted. “It was going seven or eight feet past. That one was humming. It’s funny, I didn’t hit one good shot at 3 and made birdie and didn’t miss a shot on 4 and I made bogey. I was about as frustrated as I’ve been in a while on a golf course because I didn’t know what I could be doing any better. I’m playing the wind, the wind shoots it one way when it’s supposed to go the other. Or the ball flies a little shorter or farther. I just couldn’t quite nail the right number.”
Furyk set himself up, temporarily at least, as the man to beat. Spieth has positioned himself as the man to watch.
Their careers are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Furyk owns 177 top-ten finishes in his career. Spieth has played only 77 tournaments.
Furyk has 62 top-three finishes, Spieth has 14. Furyk has won $64 million, Spieth has won $17 million. Furyk has won 17 times, Spieth has won five times, four of them this year.
Spieth’s career is already pretty special, but he’s got a long way to go to catch up with Furyk’s numbers.
And Furyk isn’t done yet either. He made seven birdies Friday, and his game is tailor-made for tight courses (he drives it straight) and firm greens. Surprisingly, he has never won at Firestone, although he blew a great chance in 2012 when he double-bogeyed the final hole and lost to Keegan Bradley.
“It’s one of my favorite courses,” Furyk said. “Before I won at Hilton Head in 2010, that was another one. Colonial is a place I’d like to win, and Riviera — they’re all good, classic courses. So I’m disappointed I’ve never won here, but it’s another year and we’re only halfway. I’ll just go out and try to do the same things this weekend.”
Well, not exactly the same things. This isn’t just another boring weekend in Akron. This is Pro Football Hall of Fame induction weekend and Furyk — a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan because he grew up in Pennsylvania — knows inductee and former Steeler Jerome Bettis and was invited to the ceremony. Now Furyk will have a late tee time Saturday but fortunately, he said, Bettis is batting last in the order during Saturday night’s induction.
“It starts and 7 o’clock and I hear it usually ends at 10 or 11 so it shouldn’t be an issue for me to get there,” he said.
Furyk knows Bettis from a few PGA Tour television commercials, plus Bettis plays in Furyk’s charity golf event in the spring in Ponte Vedra Beach.
“I’m friendly with him, and I’m sure I was one of a thousand people to receive an invite but I was honored to get one,” Furyk said.
There might be a Hall of Fame spot for Furyk someday, too — not in Canton, Ohio, but at the World Golf Hall of Fame. He’s got 17 wins and one major championship. He’s on the cusp, and he’s playing good golf this year, as his victory at the RBC Heritage showed.
“It was nice to get some confidence,” Furyk said. “It had been so long since I’d won. I’m not sitting here answering questions about winning now where, had I not won at Hilton Head, we’d be talking about how many leads I took into Sunday and why they didn’t work out and how long it’s been since I’ve won? This is a refreshing conversation to sit here and talk. It helps any time you get over the hump and win. It’s a ton of confidence and a feather in your hat.”
There are 36 holes left and plenty of guys who can win this event, but no one will likely garner as much attention as a certain 45-year-old and a certain 22-year-old.