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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hits from the sixth fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links during a practice round for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Golf: Furyk returns from a long winter’s nap
First Published Feb 06 2014 09:43 am • Last Updated Feb 07 2014 04:51 pm

Pebble Beach, Calif. • Except for a cameo appearance in California, Jim Furyk has been hard to find on a golf course over the last four months.

That wasn’t an accident. And it wasn’t an injury.

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Furyk has been talking the last few years about trying to cut back on his schedule, and he might have finally figured it out. His last meaningful competition was at East Lake in the Tour Championship on Sept. 22.

He decided not to play the HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He opted out of the McGladrey Classic when something came up with his family. He dusted off his clubs to play the World Challenge the first week in December, and that’s been it.

"I’m not going all Steve Stricker on you yet," Furyk said Wednesday, a nod to his close friend who started playing a limited schedule last year.

Stricker and Furyk are the only PGA Tour members from the top 50 in the world who have yet to play a single PGA Tour event in the new wraparound season that began in October. That’s right. Both are tied for dead last in the FedEx Cup standings.

"We’re the only guys who haven’t made a cut. Is that what you’re saying?" he said with a smile.

Furyk returns to golf this week in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Stricker’s debut is still a few weeks out at the Match Play Championship.

Furyk hasn’t won since he captured the FedEx Cup in 2010 by winning the Tour Championship, though his game has not been far off the last two years. He was tied for the lead with three holes remaining in the U.S. Open in 2012, when he snap-hooked a 3-wood off a forward tee at Olympic Club and made bogey. A year ago, he had a one-shot lead over Jason Dufner going into the final round of the PGA Championship and lost to Dufner’s closing 68.

There was nothing left for him after the Tour Championship. He was left off the Presidents Cup team, was not interested in being an assistant captain, and instead spent the rest of the year at home in Florida. He didn’t even make it to a Pittsburgh Steelers game.

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"It was nice to just get some time off and be home," he said. "I’m trying to figure out the right number of events to where I want my game to be sharp. I want to feel like when I’m in the majors season that I’m click and my game is sharp. And in the fall, I want to be with my family. I want to make breakfast for the kids and take them to school and be involved."

His daughter is 11 and now in middle school. His son just turned 10.

But there was more that bothered him last year. Furyk said he felt grouchy — "He’ll attest to that," he said, turning to caddie Mike "Fluff Cowan — and lost patience. He wasn’t having as much as he once did. That much can be expected for a guy who just finished his 20th year on the PGA Tour. His career has been so remarkably consistent that along with 16 wins, a major and 15 consecutive national teams, only three times has he been outside the top 30 on the money list when healthy.

"I think everyone after 20 years on tour goes through a time where it’s not that I don’t want to play golf, I just didn’t want to be grouchy," he said. "I wanted to have more fun. And I needed to manage my time when I was playing golf and when I was at home, and choose my schedule better."

He talked to his father, the only coach he ever had. And he talked to Cowan, even asking his caddie to draw up a schedule.

"The schedule he wrote out might be the one we play," Furyk said.

Furyk said that will include a full month off between the U.S. Open and the British Open, a first for him. He plans to take the family to the mountains in Utah. That means missing the AT&T National at Congressional, a course he loves. But these are the hard decisions he finally learned to make.

"That’s going to hurt missing Congressional," he said. "I’ve never missed a tournament that I loved. I’ve missed some that I like, but not one that I loved."

It starts Thursday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a tournament slow to develop. The 156-player field includes 156 amateurs over three days at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

Brandt Snedeker is the defending champion. In some respects, Graeme McDowell feels like one.

McDowell also is making his 2014 debut, though he played the HSBC Champions and finished third and then played deep into the season on the European Tour. McDowell hasn’t been to Pebble Beach since he won the 2010 U.S. Open.

He figured it was pointless to return because it would be impossible to top what he achieved the last time he was here. Consider this the epilogue. McDowell is playing this week with his father.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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