Twelve feet stood between Jason Dufner’s ball on the 18th green and a record-setting 62 in the second round of the PGA Championship — a score that had never been posted by any player at any of the four major championships in history (or at least since the powers-that-be started keeping track of such things).
And he left the putt short. Yes, SHORT. It never had a chance, stopping two feet short of the cup. And then, he nearly missed the tap-in for 63.
Despite Dufner’s seemingly laid-back aura and emotionless appearance, he still feels the same pressure and nerves everyone else experiences when extraordinary moments arise. And he’s still known to have shaky moments with the putter.
Nonetheless, a 63 at a major championship — no less at a tough track, where only ten players have finished under par in five premier events — is still a freaking 63. It set a new record for the lowest competitive round at Oak Hill. And it tied the all-time low score at any major championship (which has now been done 26 times).
“You couldn’t have a better putt for a chance at history on the last hole,” said Dufner, who is nine-under total at the halfway mark. “But I just didn’t quite hit it hard enough.”
Dufner has become a cult hero of sorts and a popular internet meme, #dufnering, but even such a legend experiences nerves.
“I’m probably like everybody else but I can hide it a little bit better,” he said. “Today was a little bit unusual because just of the buzz that was going on with the round that I was producing.
“Usually get that buzz towards the end of the championship. A little tough on Friday, you like it more of a casual, I made the cut, I’m in good position type of rounds, but when you’re chasing history, it’s tough. But in my head, I was just trying to get further and further away from the field, trying to make birdies.”
Heading into the weekend, Dufner has a two-shot lead over Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk.
*Adam Scott: As I wrote yesterday, Scott is Phil Mickelson circa 2004 — loads of talent, but didn’t break through for his first major until his early 30s and then the floodgates opened. Scott was formerly considered “soft” and a “non-closer,” but that’s no longer the case. He now has the belief in himself that you need to close big tournaments in high-pressure situations.
“I was hungry before the Masters, and I might even have a bigger appetite after it,” said Scott, who shot 68 in tough conditions on Friday morning. “And it might be greedy, but I feel like this is my time to get everything I want out of my career, and I’m going to keep pushing until I do.”
Nothing wrong with being a little greedy.
“I think the platform has never been better for me to go on and win multiple majors,” Scott said. “I guess you’ve got to take the confidence and form of winning a major and run with it. I can’t take my foot off the gas just because I achieved something great at Augusta.”
*Justin Rose: The U.S. Open champ, who played alongside Scott and Phil Mickelson, hung tough in the torrential showers on the first nine, and then the skies cleared and he shot 29 on the front nine (he started on no. 10).
“It really was challenging,” said Rose, referring to playing in the heavy rain. “I was struggling. I was struggling to flight the ball off the tee. I was struggling to really stay in my routine… So you’re actually saying stuff in your routine that you wouldn’t otherwise do, so it definitely upsets the balance a little bit. That’s how I felt, anyway. It was a hard work front nine for me.
“But I think there was just a nice it just happened at a nice time that the rain stopped and literally sort of putting on a new glove, that was like my mental trigger for something different on the back nine; something to use as, let’s start afresh now.”
*Webb Simpson: After a slow start on Thursday with a five-over 40 on his opening nine, Simpson rallied to post 32 on the subsequent three nines. The 2012 U.S. Open champ played in the morning wave with the tough conditions due to the deluge at Oak Hill, but he managed to shoot a course record six-under 64 on Friday…
“It’s pretty special,” said Simpson, referring to tying the course record. “I had no idea what the course record was. But you know, any time you can put your name near Ben Hogan, it’s a great thing. So it will go down as one of my most special rounds ever. I don’t think not tying the major record takes away from the fact that, you know, I was able to tie this course record. It was just fun; fun to experience something like that.”
Well, that distinction was short-lived, as Dufner set a new record just five-six hours later. Well, in somewhat related news, Simpson’s 64 moved him 65 spots up the leaderboard on Friday.
*Tiger Woods: So, I said this after Tiger blew the field away at Firestone last Sunday by seven shots, but I thought it was kind of an overreaction that the majority of people were ready to give him the Wanamaker Trophy before the PGA Championship even started … based on what he did the week before. Yes, he won Firestone and the PGA in back-t0-back weeks in 2007, but that was before the scandal and he hadn’t gone 0-for-majors in the past five years.
Even though a WGC is more prestigious than a regular Tour event, it’s still far from a major. Tiger feels relaxed at Firestone because he can play the course with his eyes closed and doesn’t put the same pressure on himself as he does for the majors.
Woods, who played in mild and ideal conditions Friday afternoon, looked anything but confident and comfortable at Oak Hill. It’s almost hard to believe the same guy who won the WGC last Sunday is the one who can’t break par at the PGA this week.
With the birdie fest taking place all over the course, Woods trudged his way around to an even-par 70, putting him at one-over total and ten shots behind Dufner. Oh, six players shot scores of 66 or better in the second round.
“Just the way it goes,” he said. “Obviously I need to hit it better than I have.”
Is he too far back to make up ground to contend?
“Obviously I’m going to have to put together a really good weekend,” said Woods, who almost sounded apathetic. “This golf course is pretty soft. It’s definitely gettable. Got to hit the ball in play and keep the ball near the hole so I can be aggressive with my putts.”
He couldn’t get anything going. When he gave himself opportunities to score and carry over the momentum, it was quickly thwarted. After he drove the par-4 14th, he had a putt for eagle, but of course, he three-putted.
“I’m so far back that if the leaders go ahead and run off with it and shoot a low one tomorrow, I’m going to be pretty far behind,” said Woods when asked if he could still get back in the mix on Sunday. “I have got to do my job tomorrow and go out there and post something in the mid to low 60s, like some of the guys did today. Some of the guys were 7-under through 14, 7-under through 14. It definitely can be done.”
Well, there’s always next year — I mean, hey, the Masters is less than eight months away.