Aug 09, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Two years ago, Jason Dufner was poised for his career breakthrough at the PGA Championship, only to squander a four-shot lead in the last four holes and lose a playoff to Keegan Bradley.
Fast-forward to Friday afternoon at Oak Hill Country Club in suburban Rochester, where the 36-year-old Dufner took a run at golf immortality before settling for a course record and claiming the halfway lead in the year’s final major.
With a seven-under-par 63, Dufner broke the Oak Hill course mark first set by Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange, and then matched by Webb Simpson earlier in the day. He finished at nine-under-par 131, two shots clear of Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk at day’s end.
Dufner is the 12th player in PGA history to post 63, and the 24th overall in a major, and his 131 ties the low 36-hole total in the tournament’s history, set six times before.
Ironically, the last major 63 came from Steve Stricker in the 2011 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club, the site of Dufner’s heartbreak – and Stricker just happened to be paired with Dufner for the first two rounds at Oak Hill.
With those memories of what happened in 2011 still fresh in his mind, Dufner, who shot an opening-round 68, took dead aim at an Oak Hill course softened by a full morning of rain that left it close to defenseless.
The spark came at the par-four 2nd hole. From 105 yards out, Dufner’s sand wedge hit past the hole, then spun back in for an eagle two. The usually unflappable Dufner let out a fist pump and high-fived playing partner Steve Stricker as the Oak Hill crowd roared.
Sufficiently fueled, Dufner quickly charged up the board, adding a long birdie putt on 4 and a birdie on 5 to turn in 31, within sight of the top spot.
Then Dufner grabbed a share of the lead with a three-iron to eight feet and a birdie on the long par-three 11th and, two holes later, birdied again from 10 feet to move ahead of first-round co-leader Adam Scott, who had shot 68 in the morning to go in front.
Another close iron approach, to six feet that set up a birdie at 16, had Dufner at seven under for the day, needing just one more birdie to post a 62, the lowest round ever scored in any of the four majors.
A solid par on 17 brought Dufner to the 18th, where he found the fairway and zapped an approach to 10 feet. Perhaps feeling the nerves, Dufner left the putt short, and settled for par and his 63.
“I knew that nobody had shot 62 (in a major),” said Dufner of the putt at history. “I just didn’t quite hit it (the last putt) hard enough.”
Much earlier in the day, Scott fought through heavy rain early in his round and followed up his opening 65 with a 68 to post 133, seven under par.
Scott chipped in for birdie on his first hole, the 10th, and he added a delicate downhill birdie putt on the par-five 13th and a third birdie on 16 as the rain persisted throughout his opening nine holes.
A bogey on the tough par-four 17th slowed up Scott, but he still turned in 33 and was up by two going to the front nine, where the rain finally started to diminish – much to the delight of fans who grabbed all the ponchos in the merchandise shop, causing them to run out.
Scott birdied 2 and made bogey on 3, and had another birdie-bogey exchange on 6 and 7 to finish at 68, but by that point, he was only one shot clear of his playing partner, U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.
Even par through nine and two over for his round, Rose went to the front nine and birdied 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 9 to put up a stunning 29, one short of the major championship record for nine holes, and his two-day total of 134 gave Rose a chance to, like Scott, add a second major in 2013. He’s tied for fifth with Henrik Stenson, who shot a bogey-free 66.
Furyk, the other first-round co-leader, made a long birdie putt on 1, and then quietly settled into a string of pars before he birdied 10 and added another birdie on 16 before joining the long list of players that bogeyed 17. A par on the final hole allowed him to tie Scott and Kuchar for second.
Playing just behind Dufner, Kuchar, who began the day at three under, put together an exquisite round, moving to eight under with five birdies (at 1,6, 12, 14 and 16) before a bogey on 18 left him two behind at 133.
Webb Simpson, who won the U.S. Open in 2012, nearly beat Dufner to the record number, as he was seven under through 15 holes before a bogey on his 16th hole (the 7th) made him settle for a 64, tying the course mark – for a few more hours, anyway.
Robert Garrigus, after a first-round 67, tore through his first eight holes in five under to briefly grab the lead before back-to-back bogeys on 9 and 10, only to birdie 11 and tie Scott again before bogeying the last two holes to fall back to 135, tied with Steve Stricker. Simpson, 2010 PGA champion Martin Kaymer, Charley Hoffman and Marcus Fraser are tied at 136.
Playing from behind, Tiger Woods, without a major title since 2008, had an up-and-down 70 that left him at 141, while Phil Mickelson could only manage a 71 and, at 142, barely make the cut.
That cut fell at 143, three over par. Among the notables that missed it was Woody Austin, who discovered, on his third hole, that he had 15 clubs in his bag, one too many according to the Rules of Golf. That cost him four shots, two per hole, and at 144 he missed the weekend by one shot.