Sunday, January 21, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 21, 2001

Faxon welcomes challenge

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

The steel-blue eyes turn to lasers. The jaw tightens noticeably.

Five years after Jim Furyk beat him in a three-hole playoff for the title of the longest Hawaiian Open ever waged here at Waialae Country Club, there is a part of Brad Faxon that still seethes from some of the fallout.

Not from the loss so much, but because of a barbed assumption drawn from it.

"Basically, this one (magazine) guy wrote that if you want to win a tournament, you want to play me down the stretch," Faxon recalls with digital clarity. "That really (ticked) me off."

Not that Faxon, this week’s wire-to-wire leader, should lack for inspiration entering today’s final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.

With a first prize of $720,000 - double his biggest paycheck to date - and all a victory here would mean for his burgeoning career, Faxon does not have to grasp for incentive to make his three-stroke lead hold up.

Still, the memory of 1996 and the stinging tag applied with it is yet another log on the competitive fire.

"I’m not gonna spend a whole lot of time thinking about (the magazine piece)," Faxon says. "I don’t want to make it bigger than it is. But when an athlete, any athlete, sees something they don’t like written about them, they can use it as incentive."

A victory today would give distance to the 1996 episode in which he entered the final day tied for the lead with Steve Stricker and then, when his swing deserted him, had to gut his way just to get into a playoff for the title. It would give Faxon something more than frustration to show for seven trips to Waialae.

"What I remember about ’96 most was that I had no idea where I was hitting it that last day," Faxon said. "I totally lost all kinds of feel and confidence in my swing that day. I struggled with my driver that back nine."

At the time, Faxon had pronounced it: "One of the worst rounds I ever played."

His return this week has been 180 degrees. These have been 54 eye-opening holes to make memories by. They’ve come with but two bogeys and a Midas eagle touch that has even amazed Faxon.

When he entered the interview room after a 3-under-par 67 yesterday, it was with the pronouncement, "the eagle streak is alive!"

Three eagle-3s over the course of six par-5s have been responsible for half of his thrashing of par and been enough to keep him in front of the posse headed by Ernie Els and Tom Lehman.

"I’m looking forward to (today)," Faxon said. "I’m looking forward to playing with Ernie and Tom and seeing how I’ll do. I’m not coming to play this course defensively at all."

For today, more than most, Faxon does not lack for incentive.

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