Two years after losing a five-shot lead with four to play at the 2011 PGA Championship — and nearly handing the Wanamaker Trophy to Keegan Bradley — Jason Dufner wasn’t going to let that happen again. Nope, not this time Oak Hill.
It wasn’t exactly the most thrilling finish on the planet (and compared to the first three majors in 2013, it was a snoozefest). In fact, it was pretty boring and resembled the monotonous, unchanging expression on Dufner’s face, so it was only fitting for the lack of excitement coming down the stretch and the six-inch tap-in on the 18th for the two-shot win over Jim Furyk.
“Fortunate for me, I had a little bit of a cushion there on the last hole, and that last putt was right in the perfect range for me to make it,” he said. “There’s not much to celebrate from six inches or less, but it was nice to have that short of a putt, and to cap this off, it will be, you know I didn’t practice many four to six-inchers to win a tournament, but you know, it was a perfect ending for me.”
Indeed. It really was meant to be.
The front nine had its electric moments, with Dufner and Furyk, who held the 54-lead by a stroke, matching shots in what had the makings of an epic duel, but decisive moment of the tournament came on nos. 8 and 9. Dufner almost holed out from the fairway on the eighth and tapped in for birdie, while Furyk missed his 10-footer to match. Which gave Dufner the outright lead for the first time on Sunday.
Then, on the 9th, Dufner’s drive found the left rough, presenting Furyk, who was in the middle of the fairway, with an opening. Dufner hacked his approach out as far as he could, but he was still about 10 yards short of the green. This was the moment for Furyk to knock it close and put a bit of pressure on Dufner to get up-and-down. Furyk took an aggressive line at the back-right flag, but he came up just short of the green in the gnarly rough. Dufner’s chip wasn’t mediocre, leaving himself about eight feet short of the pin, and again, giving Furyk an opening. Instead, Furyk chunked his chip and missed his 12-footer to save par, while Dufner made his putt to take a two-shot lead at the turn.
That gave Dufner the momentum and killed Furyk’s. You could feel the energy and as I walked off the 9th, it was clear to me that Furyk’s run at winning a second major was over.
However, again, Dufner did relinquish a five-shot lead with four holes to go two years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club. When Dufner reached the par-3 15th at Oak Hill, he still had a two-shot cushion. With the back-right pin location and the pond guarding the right side of the green, it was Dufner’s chance for a do-over from the 2011 PGA. As you may recall, the 15th hole at Atlanta Athletic Club was also a par-3 with a pond on that wrapped around the front and right side of the green with a back-right pin placement, though it was a bit longer. Obviously, they’re not exactly the same, but still, it was a bit eerie.
The main and most important difference, however, was unlike that feeling I had right before I watched Dufner knock his tee shot in the pond at AAC and make a triple-bogey, which eventually cost him the PGA, I was confident Dufner wasn’t going to let history repeat itself. As cheesy and cliche as it is, he learned from that experience and turned a negative into a positive.
“Probably that up-and-down on 15,” said Dufner when asked for his key moment of the day. “That was a pretty tough spot I was in.”
He added wryly, “I did not particularly care for the fan selection of that hole placement today. That was a pretty tough hole location there. I thought I hit a good shot, ends up rolling off the green. Kind of a squirrely lie in the fringe. You know, one of those balls that you could easily not get up-and-down and turn the round around.”
And what did he use from his experience at AAC in 2011 to help him at Oak Hill?
“I tried to stay patient early on,” he said. “I tried to be aggressive. I went for the par 5 fourth hole. I was thinking about laying up short of that. I ended up hitting 3wood and made birdie there.
“The fifth hole was a pretty tough pin there and I went right at it and stuffed it. A little bit of a combination of both; I knew that I had to stay patient, but I felt like I was hitting it pretty good and I hit a lot of shots close there early in the round which made it easy for me, not too much pressure on the putter today.”
Which was crucial for Dufner, who isn’t the strongest putter in the world. As we saw throughout the tournament, he looked pretty shaky over short putts, but some of his yips actually somehow ended up going in — that’s when you know it’s that guy’s week to win.
He even mustered what resembled a smile, with a small fist-pump, after he putted out on the 18th. His seemingly unchanging inexpressive look on his face was talked about constantly all week or merely whenever his name comes up in general. It’s just who he is — he’s almost incapable of smiling, like those muscles were never fully developed, but he’s actually quite witty and funny.
“Probably not, but those sports are a little bit more exciting,” said Dufner when asked if he had ever seen an athlete in any other sport stay so flatlined. “Big plays in basketball, home runs in baseball, big plays in football; that will get you pumped up.
“For me, golf is a little bit more boring I think. It’s pretty matter of fact. I hit it in the fairway or I didn’t; I hit the green or I didn’t. Usually I’m struggling with the putter, so there’s not too much to get excited about with that.”
After all that, it was still tough to tell how enthused he was to win his first major, with a record-tying score of 63 in the second round, no less. We’ll just have to take his word for it.
“I was just confident that I was going to put my best foot forward and just really hang in there and try to win this thing at the end,” he said.
*Jim Furyk: He started the final round with the lead, similar to last year’s U.S. Open where he held a share of it and at the WGC-Bridgestone where he led from start to the second-t0-last hole. And he ended it again without a trophy, but this was nothing like his devastating collapses last year. Not even close. He shot a respectable one-over 71 and hung in there and fought hard, but ultimately, Dufner simply outplayed him. Furyk didn’t lose it.
But, still, of course he was disappointed he didn’t finish on top, but he didn’t exude that same extent of melancholy he did last year that was so despondent it made you almost feel borderline suicidal.
“Well, last year, I felt like and I don’t mean any disrespect to Webb, he played great; he played better than anyone down the stretch,” said Furyk, who finished second. “But at the end of that tournament, I felt like I lost the tournament. And I walked off 18 with that feeling; with back-to-back par 5s on 16 and 17, I went bogey, par, and then wasn’t able to birdie 18 (at Olympic). Ended up, basically I need to play those last three 1under, and I had two par 5s, and 17 was reachable. I felt like it was my tournament to win, and I wasn’t able to do it.
“Today, I feel like I got beat. I didn’t beat myself, I don’t think. I felt like I got beat by Jason. Yeah, I think my attitude is a little down now, too. If I continued down the same road with the attitude I had ten years ago, it wasn’t as much fun as it needed to be I just didn’t want to be that way anymore, so I’ve kind of made a commitment this year to start trying to enjoy myself and have a little better time on the golf course.”
*Henrik Stenson: As I wrote last night, the Swede deserved to win more than anyone else (which was a bit tongue-in-cheek if for some reason you weren’t able to glean that). He didn’t have his best, but he fought hard and played steadily, and just when it looked like he was about to go on a run after birdieing no. 13, he caught a bit of bad luck on no. 14 to halt his momentum. Stenson’s ball found a divot in the 14th fairway. From there, he chunked a wedge into the bunker and made bogey, and never recovered.
“Happy with my performance, I think I kept it together nicely,” said Stenson, who shot an even-par 70. “Made a bit of a charge, made a good birdie on 13, bit unlucky, ended up in a divot just short of the green on 14, ended up making bogey there, and that kind of killed the outside chances I had on the back nine to make a charge.”
Stenson placed third for his fourth consecutive top-three finish. His results in his last four starts: 3rd at the PGA Championship, T2 at the WGC-Bridgestone, 2nd at the Open Championship, and 3rd at the Scottish Open. That’s pretty good and you can’t be upset with such high finishes, but at the same time, I’m sure it’s the tiniest bit frustrating to walk away without winning one of them after playing so well. His time will come, though.
“It’s all written in the stars if it would have been a different scenario,” he said. “Like I said, I’m happy and proud of my performance. Didn’t play my absolute best today, that’s for sure. I was still giving it a good fight and I had an unbelievable round and some great tournaments in the last month.”
*Tiger Woods: Wow, it seems like a lifetime ago when Tiger was winning practically every other major. In 2008 I’m sure many of us thought he would have tied Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles. Well, that was another era. In this new reality, Tiger went 0-for-4 again to extend his major drought. He’ll have to wait eight long months until he gets another to try again at the Masters — which then will be nearly six years since he won number 14 at the 2008 U.S. Open.
“I was close in two of them,” he said after shooting an even-par 70. “I was right there and certainly had a chance to win the Masters and the British this year. The other two, I just didn’t hit it good enough. Just the way it goes.”
He said he was more frustrated that he wasn’t in contention than he is about not winning.
“Well, it’s more frustrating not being in it,” said Woods. Having a chance on the back nine on Sunday, I can live with that. It’s always frustrating going out there, and I’m 3over today, got to 7, and I’m grinding my tail off coming in just to shoot even par for the day. And I’m nowhere in it. That’s tough.
“I’d much rather have it like at Augusta or at the British when I have a chance.”
He’s won five times this season, yet he’s come up short at the majors. I think it’s pretty apparent that he’s putting too much pressure on himself. It’s all mental. It’s nice to win regular tournaments and World Golf Championships, but they’re still not majors, which, as we know, are the ones Tiger *really* cares about because they define a player’s legacy, and he’s hell-bent on passing Jack Nicklaus’ record.
*Rory McIlroy: He didn’t successfully defend his title, but considering the state of his game heading into the week, finishing T8 almost feels like a win — which it is in a way. Had it not been for a terrible bout of bad luck on no. 5, he may have even placed in the top three.
“I actually didn’t hit a bad shot,” he said. “I had 168 yards with a nine iron, but pitched it just in the place where you can’t pitch it I guess. If I had been a few feet right or few feet right, it would have been fine…just found that one spot and it spun back into the water. I really didn’t hit a bad shot, but obviously it was disappointing.”
From the fairway, he watched in shock as his shot hit the center of the green and then spin across it and down into the rocks and the hazard. He made a triple-bogey and dropped back to one-under. However, he dug deep and rolled in birdies on nos. 9, 10 and 13.
“I played the best golf of the week today,” said McIlroy, who ended up posting an even-par 70. “I’m really, really happy with my game going into the next few weeks…”
So, how big of a step is this in the right direction?
“Very big,” he said. “I saw a lot of great signs out there today. Hopefully I can just bring that through to the next few weeks and have a strong finish to the season.”
Progress! Only because he’s such a massive talent, it’s a bit hard to believe he hasn’t won this year, and at the same time it isn’t because he’s played like crap.