Dufner claims PGA for first major title
PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Jason Dufner finally cracked a smile, raised both arms and gave a slight pump of the fist, saving all that emotion for a big occasion.
He won the PGA Championship.
Dufner played the kind of golf that wins majors Sunday with a steady diet of fairways and greens that made it too tough for Jim Furyk or anyone else to catch him. Even with bogeys on the last two holes at Oak Hill, Dufner closed with a 2-under 68 to capture his first major and atone for a meltdown two years ago in Atlanta.
“It’s been a tough day. It was a long day. Tough golf course,” Dufner said. “It probably hasn’t hit me yet. I can’t believe this is happening to me. … I just decided that I was going to be confident and really put my best foot forward and play aggressive and try to win this thing. I wasn’t going to just kind of play scared or soft.
“I’m happy to get the job done. It’s a big step in my career.”
Dufner wasn’t sure he would get another chance after the 2011 PGA Championship, when he blew a four-shot lead with four holes to play and lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley. He wasn’t about to let this one get away. Dufner won by playing a brand of golf that matches the bland expression on his face.
It wasn’t exciting. It didn’t need to be.
The turning point at Oak Hill was the final two holes — on the front nine. Dufner made a short birdie on the eighth hole to take a one-shot lead, and Furyk made bogey on the ninth hole to fall two shots behind. Furyk, a 54-hole leader for the second time in as many years in a major, couldn’t make up any ground with a procession of pars along the back nine. He finally made a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th, but only after Dufner spun back a wedge to 18 inches for a sure birdie.
Furyk also made bogey on the last two holes, taking two chips to reach the 17th green and coming up short into mangled rough short of the 18th green, where all he could do was hack it onto the green. Furyk closed with a 71 to finish three shots behind.
“I have a lot of respect for him and the way he played today,” Furyk said. “I don’t know if it makes anything easy, or less easy. But I don’t look at it as I lost the golf tournament. I look at it as I got beat by somebody that played better today.”
Dufner finished at 10-under 270, four shots better than the lowest score in the five previous majors at Oak Hill. Jack Nicklaus won the 1980 PGA Championship at 274.
Henrik Stenson, trying to become the first Swede to win a men’s major title, pulled within two shots on the 13th hole and was poised to make a run until his tee shot settled on a divot hole in the 14th fairway. He chunked that flip wedge into a bunker and made bogey and closed with a 70 to finish alone in third. In his last three tournaments — two majors and a World Golf Championship — Stenson has two runner-ups and a third.
Jonas Blixt, another Swede, also had a 70 and finished fourth. Masters champion Adam Scott never made a serious of move and shot 70 to tie for fifth. Defending champion Rory McIlroy made triple bogey on the fifth hole to lose hope, those he still closed with a 70 and tied for eighth, his first top 10 in a major this year.
Dufner two-putted for bogey on the 18th from about 10 feet and shook hands with Furyk as if he had just completed a business deal. He hugged his wife, Amanda, and gave her a love tap on the tush with the cameras rolling.
Asked if he had ever been nervous, she replied, “If he has been, he’s never told me.”
That’s what gives Dufner is own personality on the PGA Tour. His pulse didn’t appear to be any different on the opening tee shot than when he stood on the 18th hole.
“I would say I was pretty flat-lined for most of the day,” he said.
Among the first to greet Dufner was Bradley, who beat him in the PGA playoff at Atlanta and was behind the “Dufnering” craze from earlier this year.
Dufner went to an elementary school in Dallas as part of a charity day as defending champion in the Byron Nelson Classic. A photo showed him slumped against the wall in the classroom next to the children, his eyes glazed over, as the teacher taught them about relaxation and concentration techniques. The pose was mimicked all over the country, giving Dufner some celebrity for his zombie appearance.
Now he’s known for something far more important.
Dufner became the sixth player to win a major with a round of 63, joining Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd, Nicklaus and Johnny Miller.
He is the third first-time major champion of the year, and the 15th champion in the last 19 majors who had never won the big one. Woods is responsible for the latest trend, mainly because he’s not winning them at the rate he once was.
Woods extended his drought to 18 majors without winning, and this time he wasn’t even in the hunt. For the second straight round, Woods finished before the leaders even teed off. He closed with a 70 to tie for 40th, 14 shots out of the lead.
“I didn’t give myself many looks and certainly didn’t hit the ball good enough to be in it,” Woods said.
Furyk wasn’t about to beat himself up for another major opportunity that got away. He had a share of the lead at the U.S. Open last year until taking bogey on the par-5 16th hole with a poor tee shot. His only regret was not making par on the last two holes — the toughest on the back nine at Oak Hill — to put pressure on Dufner.
Not that anyone would have noticed.
An Auburn graduate and all-around sports nuts, Dufner can’t think of any other athlete who plays with so little emotion.
“But those sports are a little more exciting — big plays in basketball, home runs in baseball, big plays in football. That will get you pumped up,” he said. “For me, golf is a little bit more boring. I hit it in the fairway or I didn’t. Usually I’m struggling with the putter, so there’s not too much to get excited about with that.”
His name on the Wanamaker Trophy?
That was good for a smile.
“Nobody can take that away from me,” he said. “It’s a great accomplishment for me, and I’m really excited about it.”